South Africa: Students in Mobile TV-to-Cellphone Trial

Technology & Convergence

Students on five university campuses are enjoying a new service that delivers free downloads of made-for-mobile television shows, music and movie trailers to their cellphones. Every 20 minutes, students in the wireless hotspots are receiving text messages asking if they want to download another slice of entertainment. The company behind the scheme is Motherland Isiko TV (MiTV), which has signed deals to send out movie trailers from Ster Kinekor and ringtones, screen savers and games from Exact Mobile. MiTV also runs its own studio to produce the made-for-mobile programmes.

The downloads are being delivered over a Bluetooth wireless network installed by Wireless Customer Interactive Services (WCIT). Bluetooth zones have been set up at Wits, the Free State University in Bloemfontein, Potchestroom's University of the North West, and at two campuses of Nelson Mandela University of Technology in Port Elizabeth. That gives it a potential audience of up to 90000 students.

"We have installed our own network to run our own mobile TV channel, which is quite a feat," said MiTV CEO Kevin McKerr. Bluetooth was a great technology for MiTV because the students could choose whether to accept or reject the content, said McKerr. When the service detects a Bluetooth-enabled handset in the catchment zone it sends a message asking if the user wants to download content on offer.

If they accept, the music, movie trailer or television programme is downloaded to their phone. To prevent consumer fatigue, they are only offered different content at 20 minute intervals during their stay in the wireless hotspot, which is typically the university canteen.

MiTV is based in Randburg, Johannesburg, and uses MTN's cellular network to deliver content to each campus for distributing over the Bluetooth network. MiTV is struggling to profit from the venture because the content is free. If the downloads become blatant advertising, the students will stop accepting them and the sponsors will withdraw their support. "The revenue model is based on advertising but it's a tricky balance," McKerr said. "It has to be content that is valuable. If we send out three adverts in a row people won't want any more, so we need to apply common sense."

So far MiTV has delivered downloads to about 1000 people, and hopes to deliver 2000 downloads on each campus every month as more students hear about the service. It also hopes to cover every university, but it has received a mixed response when it has asked the principals for permission to set up a network. "Some are concerned that campuses are becoming overcommercial. Other see it as a great service that the university can offer and they want to use the network themselves to communicate with the students," he said.

Business Day (Johannesburg), 17 May 2007