Market Insight

SARFT leads commercial mobile TV roll-out in China

September 28, 2008

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China's State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) is to set up a new operator for the commercial launch of mobile television broadcasting, set for early 2009. The new company will be responsible for content production and aggregation as well as issuing licenses for receiving the service to mobile terminals including handsets, USB TV dongles, and portable navigation devices. Adopting one of China's two proprietary mobile digital broadcasting standards, CMMB, the service started trials just before the Beijing Olympics, and was available in 37 cities. SARFT is working to roll-out the service in over 300 cities around the country by the end of 2008. The service will also be made available on roads, railways and waterways.

Currently broadcasting seven terrestrial broadcast channels free to air, SARFT is planning to introduce a subscription model at commercial launch. Screen Digest has learnt from internal sources that the entry price for the mobile TV package will be around 12 Yuan ($1.50) a month.
SARFT-authorized CMMB terminal manufacturers include Lenovo and ZTE among others. CMMB handset prices vary from $100 to $1,000.

SARFT has beaten rival Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) to market with the CMMB standard, an alternative to the MIIT-backed TMMB technical solution. SARFT has pushed ahead with this launch despite previous indications that the TMMB standard would be selected as the national standard. China had 585m mobile users in the second quarter 2008, making the stakes for the successful party high.
Local reports suggest that there are 115,000 SARFT-authorized mobile handsets in the market, all receiving free mobile TV. Screen Digest believes that the actual number could be as many as 500,000 taking into consideration unauthorized handsets being sold on the street. However, leading handset manufacturer Nokia, which sold 17.6m units in China in the second quarter 2008 and had over 40 per cent sales market share in the country during 2007, has not yet released a CMMB model. Nokia is backing competing mobile broadcasting standard DVB-H instead.
Demonstrating that it may be bearing a grudge, MIIT has not yet agreed to grant network access license for CMMB-supporting handsets, which could be a big hurdle towards the legitimate commercial launch next year. In addition to TMMB, the roll-out of MIIT's 3G standard TD-SCDMA can also offer serious challenges to CMMB-based mobile television services in terms of interactive features including VOD.
Currently, no one benefits from the vicious competition between the two ministries. One compromise which has begun to emerge in the past few months is that MIIT would be happy to endorse CMMB handsets as long as those handsets support 3G standard TD-SCMDA. Screen Digest sees the potential collaboration of the two government institutions as beneficial to the on-going development of China's mobile television market.

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