MobiTV's Next Step Could be U-verse
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) executives often talk about reaching the "three screens" with their U-verse IPTV service. Emeryville, Calif.-based MobiTV Inc. might be the company that figures into the carrier's plans for doing so. (See Service Station: AT&T's Silly Stream.)
The three screens AT&T talks about are TVs, PCs, and mobile devices. Currently, AT&T's U-verse IPTV content makes it to the TV screen through partnerhsips with Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT). AT&T has been far less specific about how it will bring U-verse programming to PC and mobile screens.
So why might MobiTV be the right partner for the job? First, both AT&T and Cingular Wireless , which AT&T now co-owns with BellSouth, are already MobiTV customers. MobiTV video became part of Cingular's mMode mobile services 15 months ago. Cingular will be subsumed by AT&T at the completion of the BellSouth/AT&T merger.
AT&T announced in September that MobiTV would power its new broadband video service called AT&T Broadband TV. The service now features about 25 channels of news, sports, and entertainment content and is growing, MobiTV tells Light Reading. AT&T had announced earlier that MobiTV video is available to users of WiFi hotspots. (See AT&T Offers Internet TV and MobiTV Supports WiMax.)
In the U.S., MobiTV has also signed up as customers Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) and Windstream Supply Inc. In the U.K. it counts 3 UK and Salt SA as customers.
MobiTV already has built a platform that brings video to large numbers of PC and mobile screens and claims it should have an edge in an AT&T mobile deal. The company licenses and aggregates video content, encodes it and "optimizes" it to display correctly on a variety of mobile devices, hosts it, and streams it over broadband and wireless networks.
Strategy Analytics Inc. VP of wireless David Kerr points out that MobiTV has plenty of experience with the advertising aspect of mobile and PC video. "They're not just wrapping ads around mobile content; they’re marketing over a lot of non-traditional networks," Kerr says. "They're agnostic on access networks, and they view all of them as just more potential eyeballs.
"By a long way, MobiTV are the market leaders in the mobility space, so I see them as a natural company to partner with there."
AT&T did not return calls for comment on this story. MobiTV says that the company is positioning for that type of business, but didn't comment on any specific deals.
"The PC product and the mobile product would be our specialty, so we would probably skin those two services to mirror the branding of the [U-verse] service," says MobiTV spokesman Justin Taylor.
The main question now is whether MobiTV will contribute its own licensed video content, or simply host and deliver AT&T's U-verse content.
"Would we be the technology play while they would use their own content? That's kind of up for debate, but that's certainly up to AT&T," Taylor says. "Either way, we are really pleased that we would be hosting that offering."
Of course, AT&T has other options for extending U-verse to PCs and mobile devices. The carrier could develop its wireless and broadband video platforms in-house. It might be more likely to ask its IPTV partners Alcatel and Microsoft to design and deploy a bridge between the U-verse super headend and the Cingular wireless network. Or U-verse content might be delivered to PCs using existing AT&T broadband infrastructure.
But MobiTV has a long headstart in developing and field-testing its platform with large numbers of subscribers. AT&T and its partners now have their hands full learning to deliver IPTV to large numbers -- they may not have time to start from scratch with PC and mobile video platforms.
MobiTV also appears to be fueling up for more growth. On November 2, the firm announced that Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ADBE) and Hearst Corp. had joined the C round with an additional $30 million. (See MobiTV Raises $30M.) That brought the round to just more than $100 million. (See MobiTV Raises $70M.) The company announced a $15 million B round in August 2004.
— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading