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Will mobile video carry the ball for Super Bowl?

The Super Bowl, the quintessential big-screen event, isn't quite ready for the small screen — the one on mobile phones. But on game day, many football fans will use their phones to augment the experience and excitement.
Image: Sprint NFL Mobile Live
Sprint users can view "NFL Mobile Live," with lots of Super Bowl details and info, part of the wireless carrier's TV offering. Sprint

The Super Bowl, the quintessential big-screen event, isn’t quite ready for the small screen — the one on mobile phones. But on game day, many football fans will use their phones to augment the experience and excitement.

More than 1 million of Sprint’s subscribers have signed up for its “NFL Mobile Live” program. While the Super Bowl won’t be telecast to mobile phones, NFL Mobile Live will offer subscribers a variety of features including a recap of the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers’ seasons, rosters, stats and video highlights of past Super Bowls.

NFL Mobile Live, which Sprint previously offered, was “given a major overhaul this (past) year,” said Dave Mellin of Sprint. Live radio radio broadcasts “of every regular-season game were added, as well as the live NFL Network game telecasts — both firsts ever for the NFL to offer live radio or TV on a mobile device.”

The program itself is free, but customers have to subscribe to Sprint’s monthly data plan for Web and e-mail service in order to receive it.

Other major wireless carriers, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, have mobile TV services available, with plans starting at $15 a month. Super Bowl-related clips and news are available via mobile channels from ESPN as well as the major networks.

Because the Super Bowl is as much a social experience as a sporting one, with parties aplenty planned around the nation, it’s not the kind of event “that lends itself to mobile video consumption,” said Nicholas C. Covey, mobile media analyst for the Nielsen Co.

The idea of someone “sitting by themselves, looking at a 2-inch screen” to watch the game is counter to the nature of the Super Bowl, he said.

Different appeal than inauguration
President Barack Obama’s history-making inauguration Jan. 20 drew enormous numbers of viewers to the Web via computers, as well as mobile devices. Major news sites streamed live video of the event, which many people watched from work.

There was “an unprecedented volume of traffic driven by the inauguration,” said Andy Kill, a spokesman for MobiTV, which provides mobile phone TV service both to wireless carriers and to individuals.

The company, which has 5 million subscribers, saw viewership spikes during each of the three presidential debates, as well as on Election Day when there was a 373 percent increase in viewing minutes compared to the daily average, Kill said.

“The inauguration happened during the workday, and people also were out and about, doing all sorts of things, making it more likely that they would be looking to watch inauguration (events) over their phones rather than for something like the Super Bowl,” said Covey.

“The same goes for the Olympics, which had a big mobile push last summer, and for the upcoming NCAA tournament,” he said.

“These sorts of series of events lend themselves to mobile video, or the mobile Web for that matter. These are events that people want to tune in for, but don’t necessarily happen on a Sunday evening, when they’re gathered around friends and family.”

Sprint “has done a good job of setting up this NFL Mobile Live package to provide a lot of contextual information about the Super Bowl, information that is probably more closely aligned with what people will be looking for on their phones,” said Covey.

10 million mobile viewers
More than 10 million mobile phone users in the United States watch video content on their phones each month, from YouTube clips to broadcast channels, the Nielsen Co. said in a recent report, “Tuned into the Phone: Mobile Video Use in the U.S. and Abroad.”

It’s a relatively small, but growing number, representing 7.3 percent of mobile subscribers at the end of the third quarter of 2008, up from 6.4 percent at the end of the third quarter of 2007, he said.

About 42 percent who are watching mobile video are paying to do so, Covey said, using subscription services from wireless carriers, or from a company like MobiTV, which has monthly plans starting at about $10.

Fees of $10 and $15 a month for TV on a mobile phone may be steep for something so far considered to be very optional and even a frill during tough economic times.

Not surprisingly, the Nielsen Co. noted that the “most popular means of mobile video consumption today is mobile Web video that is accessed without additional subscription to mobile video.”

Most people turn to their phones for mobile video when they’re waiting for “someone or something,” or when they’re away from home and traveling, the report said.

Sports is big draw
Sports and sports-related news are fourth in popularity among mobile viewers, Covey said, after comedy, weather and music videos.

“We estimate that 3.6 million mobile subscribers watch sports content,” he said.

NBC is the “most watched mobile video brand” in the United States, according to Nielsen, with 4.7 million users watching network programs. ( is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

Fox, MTV, The Weather Channel, Comedy Central, YouTube and ESPN are considered the next most popular mobile video brands, with between 28 and 42 percent of viewers, Nielsen said.

And about half of the nation’s 224 million mobile phone subscribers own devices that are capable of showing video content, Nielsen said.

Apple’s iPhone is the top cell phone used by mobile video users. The next five are Motorola’s RAZR V3 series of phones, the BlackBerry Pearl (8100 series), Palm Centro, LG Voyager and Samsung Instinct, the company said.