By Harry McCracken | Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 11:10 am
Hulu Mobile. It doesn’t actually exist, but when and if Hulu arrives on cell phones, it’s going to have a huge audience. And in the meantime, you might want to check out Bitbop, a new TV-on-phones service which was announced yesterday at the CTIA Wireless show. (It’s part of Fox Mobile, whose parent company, News Corporation, is part owner of Hulu.)
Bitbop will offer TV shows (and, later, movies) from Fox, NBC Universal, Discovery, and other sources as both streams and downloads, via an app that will be available in iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry versions. It’s a for-pay service with a Netflix-like business model: Ten bucks a month gets you all the content you can watch. The company plans to make the apps and service available within the next few weeks.
I got a quick peek at Bitbop at the MobileFocus press event in Las Vegas on Tuesday night, and it was enough to leave me wanting to try it out, at least. Also at MobileFocus was another pocketable TV product which I first saw at CES in January, and which still hasn’t shipped: Mophie’s Juice Pack TV for the iPhone. It’s a version of the company’s Juice Pack Air case/battery pack with a built-in tuner for Qualcomm’s FLO TV service.
FLO TV isn’t an Internet TV service: It’s live broadcast TV, with content from cable stations, that can be viewed on portable devices. As long as you’re in one of the 110 markets with service, it doesn’t get bogged down or skip frames, and changing channels is as easy as surfing through them with a cable remote.
The service has been around for years without ever becoming a hit–probably because of a combination of hardware issues (for most of that time you needed one of a handful of FLO TV-ready phones from AT&T and Verizon), limited availability and content, and pricing. But the situation has improved on all these fronts: For instance, FLO just added CNN, and AT&T charges $10 a month for its version, the same price as Bitbop.
The Mophie iPhone case, which is supposed to arrive in the next few weeks, is FLO TV’s best shot at the big time so far: It puts the service on the world’s hottest mobile gizmo in way that’s surprisingly elegant. (I shuddered at the thought of an external adapter, but once you’ve sheathed the iPhone in the Juice Pack, you can forget the adapter is there–and it’s a battery backup, too.)
It’s still not clear whether FLO TV will catch on–when I chatted with Bill Stone, the company’s president, at CTIA, he talked about upcoming improvements such as on-demand features, but also touted the network’s virtues for non-television applications, such as delivering newspapers and magazines to e-readers. For that matter, it’s stil not obvious that there are enough people willing to pay $10 and up a month for mobile TV to make any fee-based service into a hit. But I’m curious to see how the Mophie case and other new FLO devices such as the Personal Television do. Would you consider buying one?