With a stripped-down line-up and a spokesmodel famous for stripping off, Virgin Mobile has finally unleashed the UK's first broadcast mobile TV service.
Using a wholesale offering from BT known as Movio, Virgin customers will be able to get square-eyed on the move from 1 October, with a handful of TV channels and a raft of digital radio.
Pay monthly customers shelling out £25 per month or more will get the service for free, while pay-as-you-go users will need to stump up £5 per month after an initial three-month period when TV will be free.
There will be one - count it, one - handset compatible with the TV service at launch: the Lobster 700. The ergonomic device is made by Windows Mobile shop HTC and will cost pay-as-you-go users £199.
The phone won't be 3G - according to Alan Gow, Virgin Mobile's UK MD, there is "no tremendous demand per se" for such devices - but a third-generation telly phone is in the offing and BT will be making more announcements about compatible phones in the next few months.
The launch comes some months after BT trialled its telly service with more than 1,000 users. Now it seems both broadcasters and BT are taking a more tentative approach. Virgin telly viewers will now not be treated to programmes from a number of channels such as ITV2 and Sky who were used in the initial pilot.
Just four channels will be available at launch - BBC1, Channel 4, E4 and ITV1, although Channel 4 will not be broadcasting live initially and the BBC has only agreed to provide programming for one year.
A spokesman for the BBC said: "The BBC has an approvals process for new services, a Public Value Test commissioned by the BBC's Governors and, from Janury 1, 2007, by the new BBC Trust... So the BBC is trialling mobile TV, for example, on a strictly time-limited basis in order that the likely public value and market impact assessments can subsequently inform any necessary approvals."
According to Emma Lloyd, MD of BT Movio, consumers are after a direct replica of terrestrial telly on their mobiles. "The feedback from our pilot and others around the world... is that consumers want the familiarity of big brands, big channel programming that they know and love at home," she said.
But unlike terrestrial, there will be no adverts on any of the channels to start with. It's not a sudden attack of benevolence on the broadcasters part however - just an ongoing discussion about rights with advertisers. For the same reason, some US movies will be unavailable to mobile viewers.
According to Gartner, by 2009, one in 10 mobile users will adopt mobile services. However, the analyst house has warned that operators should not expect to make massive increases in ARPU (average revenue per user) by offering such services.
According to Virgin Mobile's Gow, the MVNO is looking at its telly project as a way to acquire new customers and retain old ones. The company will be throwing money at advertising, fronted by celebrity model Pamela Anderson, during the coming month. "By November there will no one in the country who doesn't know about Virgin Mobile TV service," Gow added.
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