As appeared in the Business Daily – February 19, 2009
Written by Kui Kinyanjui
Mobile TV. The medium is preferred for soap operas since users have room to watch repeatedly and research has shown there is growth during events like the Olympics.
When an American nurse was musing over new ways to educate young women on the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, she picked two very unlikely media to transmit her message.
Instead of the usual health awareness campaign using traditional media, Rachel Jones, who now works as an assistant professor at the Rutgers College of Nursing in Newark, chose specially created soap operas ,which could be viewed on a mobile phone.
“The popularity of the cell phone and use of the Internet offer a new communication channel to address the health disparities in young urban women,” said Ms Jones.
For her efforts, Ms Jones has been awarded a four-year, $2 million grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research at National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the effects of her initiative.
Ms Jones and her team are filming the urban soap opera series using a $154,400 grant from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey.
“The videos will be viewed over cell phones so that women may view them repeatedly and in privacy. If the aims of this study are achieved, the use of cell phones to view videos could change the paradigm of how health promotion is communicated between clinic sessions,” said Ms Jones.
Closer to home, local ‘techpreneur’ Mbugua Njihia is watching Ms Jones’ progress on her project with more than a passing interest.
Mr Mbugua aspires to pioneer the concept locally, using specially developed soap episodes to provide entertainment on the move for young Kenyan mobile phone owners.
“We are in pilot phase right now with KenTV, who have produced some local soaps and who are a free-to-internet news service for Kenyans in the diaspora. We are building the inventory as well as seeking advertisers who will use this new media to reach out to audiences,” said Mr Mbugua who is the CEO of Symbiotic Media Consortium.
He says his team of developers is grappling with issues of streaming broadcasts directly to mobile phones.
For Symbiotic’s pilot, the firm is working with short, five-minute mobisodes, which it hopes to sell to advertisers in three-month bundles.
“There will be “free to mobile” content as well as premium content which users will subscribe to,” said Mr Mbugua.
The lure of mobile television has not escaped the attentions of the big guy in the technology industry.
Just last week, Safaricom announced that it had launched a new service that would allow subscribers to watch episodes of popular drama on their mobile phones using an internet link.
Safaricom is offering episodes of Papa Shirandula, Inspekta Mwala and Churchill Live on its line-up, accessible through the company’s online portal wap.safaricom.com.
This is not the mobile firm’s first foray into providing viewing content on its network.
A link-up with satellite broadcaster DSTV in October 2007 has seen the mobile company carve a niche of subscribers to a mobile TV offering, which gives users access to about eight channels on specially designed mobile phones for a monthly fee of Sh1,000.
At the time, DSTV said it had picked Kenya as an ideal market to launch the service due to the positive growth of the mobile sector and the trend-conscious profile of the consumers in the market.
Globally, mobile TV has been tagged as a new growth area for both broadcasters and mobile firms.
New research from ABI Research indicates that the market for mobile television will surge to include 500 million viewers by 2013.
“It has been primarily offered at the end of a long list of more preferred cellular services. However, Mobile TV will soon be positioned in a more proper role as an extension of traditional broadcast TV services,” said ABI’s senior analyst Jeff Orr.
At the GSM Mobile World Congress currently underway in Barcelona, MobiTV, an American mobile television firm, announced that it had recruited over six million subscribers to its mobile media service.
MobiTv attributes its growth to rising consumer demand for highly anticipated television events on mobile devices, the proliferation of smart phones and a growing trend toward bundling TV and radio services on mobile phone packages.
“We’re seeing growth driven by major television events, from the Olympics to Election Day.
Additionally, the proliferation of 3G smart phones and media-centric devices is enabling the very high-quality mobile TV experience that consumers expect,” said Paul Scanlan, president and co-founder of MobiTV.
MobiTV’s content offerings include primetime shows from NBC and ABC and more than 40 channels of content, including ESPN, Disney, CNBC, MSNBC and more