If you needed any proof of how mobile phones have taken over the
planet, check out a crowd shot from the World Cup – guaranteed you’ll
find at least someone on the blower bragging to their mate. And while
mobile companies will be glad for the revenue, they’ll also be hoping
it motivates the receiver to check out the action themselves.

Technology companies have a history of using big events to showcase the
latest innovation and Germany 2006 is no exception – mobile content,
and video in particular, is being promoted in a big way. While consumer
trials and limited launches have been ongoing over the last few years,
the current event represents one of the first times the mobile has been
used as a mass media platform.

World football body FIFA is believed to have sold the rights to
transmit video to mobile phones in over 100 countries for this year’s
event. Compare that to just one, Japan, for the 2002 event and you’ll
get an idea of the pace of take-up. According to Ovum Principal Analyst
Eden Zoller this week, “using the FIFA World Cup as a hook for mobile
TV services makes sense. It’s a hugely popular event around the world
that has the potential to engage a mass market”.

In Germany itself, not only have they gone football crazy, if you
believe the hype, they’re also mobile video crazy. All four of the
country’s mobile networks – E-Plus, O2, T-Mobile and Vodafone – have
launched DVB-H trials around the event, providing users with some 14
different football-themed video packages and six radio feeds.

In the UK, where O2 has garnered some of the world’s more positive
results from its previous DVB-H trials, 3UK is streaming a daily world
cup program and game highlights available just five minutes after
full-time. T-Mobile UK and TV news provider ITN are providing a 24-hour
World Cup channel.

And of course, after 32 years out of the game, Australia is very much
taking part this time around. Having already experimented with both
DVB-H and streaming services around the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne
earlier this year, Telstra is offering a whole range of streaming video
for its 3G subscribers, including team and player profiles, and news
updates. It’s also running Dribble with Roy & HG, a series of comical programs tracking the progress of the Socceroos.

One hopes the show title doesn’t relate to the download capacity. 3
Mobile Australia has effectively positioned its World Cup mobile
content offering as a social service. A recent statement said, “Aussie
men are planning to stay up late to watch an average of 15 live matches
during the World Cup. The extra 30 hours watching football will
result in an average of seven and a half hour’s less sleep a week… the
football fever about to engulf our nation will leave the average Aussie
male (and his girlfriend!) sleep deprived and blurry-eyed.” The answer
of course, is to cough up the $8 per month to join its Planet 3 content
portal and access a range of World Cup programming, both live and
packaged.

Analysts also warn that such high profile new technology demonstrations
could turn out to harm the industry. As was the case with early WAP and
internet streaming services, if people are underwhelmed by the
performance, they may take some convincing to come back. Whatever the
success, it’s clear that with the 2006 FIFA World Cup this
new media format formerly known as the mobile phone has truly arrived
as a mainstream entity. Other than video, you’ll of course find many
text-based news and update services, picture downloads, games
and the rest provided you’re happy to pay.

In addition, should no-one stump up the funds, industry analysts at
Informa reckon those suckers in the stands will provide operators with
their biggest ever roaming windfall. It estimates that the million fans
travelling to Germany will cop a total of 36.5 million Euros in roaming
charges alone over the course of the event, leading at least me to
think more the fool them for the bombast.

Peter Fray

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