Virgin, BT put brakes on mobile TV

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Virgin Mobile and British Telecom have scrapped their year-old British mobile TV service in the wake of the European Commission's decision to back a rival standard to their DAB-IP-based service.

The decision comes despite industry praise for the pioneering technology involved in the service. However, Virgin Mobile and BT said that the project failed to generate much interest from either consumers or industry, and the commission's support for the DVB-H mobile broadcasting standard was "the death knell" for the service.

"The EC's move to back DVB-H was the final nail in the coffin," said Simon Dornan, Virgin Mobile's head of consumer PR. "But we are proud to have led the way in this area."

The five-channel Virgin Mobile TV was launched in October with a $5 million advertising campaign fronted by former "Baywatch" star Pamela Anderson as the first mobile television service to be launched outside South Korea. But instead of using a major standard such as the Nokia-backed DVB-H or Qualcomm-backed MediaFLO, it went with BT's DAB-IP-based service called BT Movio.

The service failed to click with customers, thanks in part to a lack of compatible phones; only one awkward handset — the Lobster phone from Taiwanese maker HTC — was ever made available.

Virgin Mobile was the only company to sign up to BT Movio, which was tipped to take mobile TV into other European countries. But BT has now disbanded the service and canceled its contract with GCap Media, the radio business that owned the spectrum over which the service runs. The service is expected to be switched off completely early next year.

BT said customer uptake was disappointing but that it was just one reason for the decision to close the service.

"The commission decision was clearly a factor in our decision," BT press officer Mike Witts said. "BT Movio was built with flexibility so it could eventually work with DVB-H. But DVB-H will only be fully available in the U.K. from 2012, when the analog TV signal is being switched off."

VMTV used part of the digital radio spectrum but only offered a limited number of TV channels: BBC1, ITV1, Channel 4, E4 and ITN news. Other operators like O2 already have committed to DVB-H, which can carry about 16 channels.
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