Buzzwords always fascinate me, and the recent buzz at Barcelona's 3GSM World Congress cell phone convention, "mobile TV" got me thinking: Why don't they call it "portable TV"? The answer, I think, is obvious: Because portable TVs have been around for decades.
Even before there were LCDs there were tiny black and white CRT TVs that used the same small one-inch diagonal screens you'd find in early portable video camera viewfinders, with a magnifying glass to blow the image up a bit. My first portable TV I bought in the late 1980s and it had a 3" color LCD screen. It was made by Sony and fit in my pocket, and was about the size of what used to be called a transistor radio. Though it wasn't hard to find, it was certainly not one of the more popular items in the large electronics store where I bought it, and from what I could tell, the portable TVs were being marketed primarily as a way to watch important sporting events wherever you are.
I did not buy mine to watch sports, however, but rather because of an addiction I must now confess to: falling asleep with the TV on. Apparently I'm not alone in this addiction, as the TV industry seems to have widely adopted a feature, called the "sleep timer," specifically to feed this habit. Whether it's a healthy habit or not I'm not going to debate here, but upon beginning to live with my significant other, we soon discovered it was a minor point of conflict. (Believe me, there were much bigger ones too!) So I went trudging out to buy a "portable TV" so that I could feed my addiction privately, without bothering my bedmate. I almost never really used it portably, with battery power, preferring to save money and run it off the AC adapter, and I actually had it connected to cable-TV as well. So, my portable TV was hardly being used to watch TV on the go.
But for many years I knew that if I ever wanted to watch VHF or UHF TV channels, including all the major broadcast networks, while on the go, I could do it just by unhooking my bedside television and popping some batteries in. I never did.
Which brings us back to that fundamental question underlying much of the discussion at 3GSM: How much will consumers really want mobile TV? I myself seem to have gone almost two decades with portable TV at my fingertips, yet zero interest in watching major network fare. Now that I hear YouTube videos will be playing on a cell phone, perhaps I'll have another look. But then again, isn't network TV, by definition, the most popular programming there is?