Sling, MTV execs debate mobile TV's place in tech

Customer rights vs. content control

Sling Media and MTV Networks went head-to-head Tuesday at the 3GSM World Congress in a debate about how mobile is changing television.

Trumpeting the ability to watch "what you want, where you want," Sling Media vp Europe Stuart Collingwood said the Slingbox has beaten the rest of the wireless community to the task of bringing interesting television content to mobile phones.

For many at the GSM's Mobile Entertainment Summit session, moderated by Mimi Turner, The Hollywood Reporter's European television editor, the Slingbox's ability to stream a television set onto a computer, mobile phone or PDA seemed to leapfrog the laborious efforts of the telecom industry to secure mobile TV in an effective, cost-efficient and quality manner for the end user.

Sling seemed to turn the efforts of the industry for the past five years on its head when Collingwood challenged the need to buy rights.

"You don't need content deals between telecom and suppliers. Give the customer the product they know and love," Collingwood said. "I've already paid my subscriptions for my home TV. It's for my private consumption."

But MTV Networks' Gideon Bierer, senior vp digital media, challenged the Slingbox, saying the mobile user requires a unique product, and defended his company's investment in creating content designed specifically for the cell phone.

"Without the ability to interact or control the content, in the form of video-on-demand, mobile TV is only part of the pie," Bierer said. "There are different windows for watching content. Mobile is the only one that the full-length TV show is not the primary product. It's more complex because it is specifically out-of-home viewing."

MTV, involved in mobile video since as early as 2003, when it launched on-demand programming, is widely regarded as a pioneer in mobile TV.

But Bierer warned that new, user-friendly windows — such as online video streaming, download-to-own and IPTV — are disrupting mobile TV's potential market.

"These are all businesses that are challenging mobile TV and mobile VOD in terms of access to rights, focus, investment and, very importantly, in terms of viewing windows," Bierer said.

The crowding of the market directly affects potential ad revenue.

"There's very little transparency regarding reporting what shows are doing well and how we value rights," Bierer said. "The characteristics that make other established content media work well are generally absent in mobile, and that's a challenge we need to get beyond."