[NY Times] When South Korea plays Greece on June 12 in its World Cup soccer opener in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, life will not necessarily grind to a halt back in Seoul.
Many fans will instead follow a live broadcast of the match on their mobile phones. In South Korea, free-to-air mobile TV is a five-year-old fact of life. According to the country’s broadcasters, 27 million people — 56 percent of the population — watch regularly.
While South Koreans are the world leaders in mobile TV viewing, the technology is also catching on in China, southeast Asia, India, Africa and Latin America, where 80 million people now have cellphones that can receive free, live TV broadcasts.
“There have been a lot of hype cycles with mobile TV technology,” said Anna Maxbauer, an analyst at IMS Research in Austin, Texas. “But with recent advances in battery life, and consumer acceptance, there is real potential for widespread viewing.”
At least 40 million people are watching live TV this year on mobile phones, Ms. Maxbauer said. Most live in emerging markets where operators, which prefer to sell TV programming for a fee through their wireless networks, do not control the sale of handsets.
Free, on-the-go viewing is common just about everywhere except the United States and Europe, where operator resistance and a maze of conflicting technical standards and program licensing hurdles have kept the technology out of the global mainstream.
But that may be about to change, according to one handset maker.
“This technology has huge potential,” said Hankil Yoon, the vice president of product strategy at Samsung, the South Korean electronics maker and U.S. cellphone market leader. “Our experience shows that people like watching TV on mobile phones, even on smaller screens. And they like watching it for free. It is only a matter of time before this goes global.”
In the complex world of wireless communication, free-to-air mobile TV technology is relatively simple. With a tiny receiver chip and telescoping antenna, a mobile phone can receive free digital or analog programming like any other television.
In South Korea, 25 million people watch free digital terrestrial broadcasts on mobile handsets and two million pay to subscribe to satellite programming, according to Korean broadcasters. The typical screen made by Samsung is a three-inch, or 7.6-centimeter, diagonal. Batteries support three to six hours of viewing. In Korea, free mobile TV broadcasts are interspersed with ads.
“In the markets where people use this, we have found that viewing tends to be pretty high,” said Diana Jovin, a vice president for corporate marketing and business development at Telegent Systems, the leading mobile TV chip maker, which is based in Sunnyvale, California.
Mobile TV's Last Frontier: U.S. and Europe