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Two-Way Street: 2009 Mobile Video Year in Review

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Qik, the social mobile video application, continued to make news in 2009 by completing a $5.5 million round of funding in July and by adding support for new phones, including the Apple iPhone, in August. After the company completed its round of funding, it welcomed Marcus Ogawa of Quest Venture Partners to its board of directors.

Qik Qik, the social mobile video application, continued to make news in 2009 bycompleting a $5.5 million round of funding in July and by adding support for newphones, including the Apple iPhone, in August..

"We as a society continue to ravenously consume engagement media. I feel strongly that mobile video is on the cusp of exploding into the mainstream. I believe Qik, with its support for many different mobile platforms and engagement options, is poised to lead this charge," Ogawa says.

Qik is an application for video-enabled cell phones that lets the owners shoot video and post it to their online accounts in real time. Site members can subscribe to their favorite content creators so they can easily see what videos have been added. Additionally, people visiting Qik.com can see the videos that are being uploaded at that moment, so they can sample an up-to-the-minute version of events that are happening around the world. While the company is still in beta (it went into public beta in July 2008), it continued to add support for new cell phones throughout the year.

Interest in Qik seemed to peak about March and April, with the appeal of its real-time reporting usurped by the growing popularity of Twitter. While the app finally found its way onto the iPhone in August (Apple didn’t offer video recording on the iPhone until the release of the iPhone 3GS), the iPhone version doesn’t allow real-time uploading of video. Instead, users have to record their videos first and then upload them in a second step. The removal of real-time streaming seemed to dampen enthusiasm for the service.Just as with the Mobile World Congress, attendance dipped noticeably at the National Association of Broadcasters show in April. Blame the lingering recession and already-strained equipment budgets. Still, there was plenty to talk about in the area of mobile video. The OMVC was on hand to spread the message about the coming of mobile DTV. The group showed off prototype devices from Samsung, Dell (an Inspiron laptop), and LG Electronics (mobile phones) to demonstrate the range of devices that would be able to show the mobile DTV signal.

Media Excel was also on hand to show off an updated version of its HERA 4000 line of transcoders—the same transcoders that allowed the company to deliver HTTP streams to iPhones. The feature would allow HERA customers to easily adapt their content for iPhone viewing. Since the HERA devices are field-upgradable, the new feature would be available as a free upgrade to existing HERA 4000 customers.

"iPhone enables an exciting set of features for live video delivery and HERA 4000 allows operators and content aggregators alike to take full advantage of those immediately," says Nikos Kyriopoulos, Media Excel’s product manager, adding that HERA 4000 "intrinsically support[s] iPhone’s streaming protocol, including segmentation, encryption and network rate adaptation.

The delayed transition to digital television freed up much of the analog spectrum for other uses. Qualcomm, Inc. bought the piece of the spectrum previously known as UHF channel 55 at auction in June 2003. But until the transition was completed on June 12, 2009, Qualcomm was only able to broadcast on channel 55 in locations that didn’t already have that channel. It first offered digital television rebranded for Verizon and AT&T phones. Once the transition was completed, however, FLO TV, Qualcomm’s digital television service, began a national rollout under its own name.

Media Excel
Media Excel At the NAB show in April, Media Excel showed off an updated version its HERA 4000 line oftranscoders—the same transcoders that allowed the company to deliver HTTP streams to iPhones.

FLO TV offers subscription television service delivered like traditional broadcast TV, so there’s need to worry about downloads or data sizes. Channels stream quarter video graphics array (QVGA) 320x240 pixel resolution at 250Kbps–500Kbps. The company is able to fit 20 digital channels at that resolution into its spectrum. It offers a mix of traditional broadcast channels (CBS, NBC) and basic cable favorites (ESPN, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon).

"What knocks everybody out right away is the crystal clear picture," says Mike Bailey, vice president of programming at FLO TV.

While FLO TV began its media push in the summer of 2009, it wasn’t available on dedicated devices until late in the year, when Audiovox introduced seat-back and drop-down video screens for cars. The company made an even greater splash in November when it introduced the FLO TV Personal Television, which retails for $250. The diminutive TV weighs only 5 oz., fits comfortably in a pocket when closed, and offers a clear 3.5" screen. The device comes with 6 months of free service, but viewers will have to pay about $10 per month after that, with that low price tied to a multiyear commitment. We’ll have to wait until next year’s survey to see whether or not viewers embrace FLO TV’s subscription model or if they’re satisfied with free video they can access in other ways.

Qik returned to the news later in the year with several strategic partnerships, electing to build its base by working with other successful companies. In late June, Qik announced an integration with Brightcove. For Brightcove, the partnership allowed customers to upload videos from more than 130 mobile phones. For Qik, it allowed a new way to share uploaded video and new ways to profit from that video.

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