There are many black holes for the unwary tech CEO to fall into, but two of the oldest and blackest are video phones and pocket TV.
Now Qualcomm has admitted that its attempt to set up a mobile TV service, delivering TV content to cellphones, has been a flop, and it’s looking for ways to ditch it.
Asked about the future of the service earlier this week, Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs replied: “We are in discussions with a number of partners regarding the future direction of the business. We are considering a number of alternatives. It will get done in the next year.”
To set up the service, Qualcomm had to buy spectrum, set up transmission towers, get a chip-set designed into phones and portable devices, and do deals with content providers.
Qualcomm’s service runs on phones connected to the Verizon and AT&T networks in the US. It delivers both live TV and can call up past TV programmes like the BBC’s iPlayer. Subscribers pay a monthly fee of between $9 and $15.
There will come a day when fold-up or roll-up screens in a handset will make it a tolerable experience to watch TV on a handset screen. But that day has not yet come.
The oft-quoted adage the commuting Asians and teenagers will watch TV on their cellphones has turned out to be wrong. Teenagers don’t watch TV anymore, preferring YouTube, Facebook and social web-sites, whereas commuting Asians have found watching TV on their cellphones resistible.
Last year analysts TMC Media showed that, of Koreans with TV-enabled mobile phones, only 1.17% were using their cellphones to watch TV while, even in the commuting rush-hours, the TV-watching mobile phone users were a mere 3.58% of the total number of enabled users.
It’s not hard to see why. Sony and Sir Clive Sinclair first brought out tiny, flat, pocket TVs in 1982 and 1983 respectively. Casio has sold a range of pocket TVs for many years.
But, despite being around 28 years, pocket TVs have turned out to be only a niche market.
People don’t want to watch TV on three inch screens. It’s as simple as that.