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FloTV drives mobile television beyond cellphones

January 14, 2010 |  3:46 pm
I'll take that TV show to go, please.

Americans increasingly want their entertainment wherever and whenever they like, giving fuel for companies such as Qualcomm to sell services that provide just that.

The San Diego technology company, which offers its subscription TV service on cellphones via carriers such as Verizon and AT&T, is rolling out the service in three new places: cars, iPhones and your pocket, via a $249 hand-held device with a kickstand (pictured above).

Instead of the often-flaky 3G service offered by most carriers, Qualcomm's FloTV service uses a UHF channel to broadcast about 20 mobile channels, including ESPN, Nickelodeon, MTV and Disney Channel.

The subscription service is offered through cellphone carriers for $7 to $15 a month.

How's that working out? Qualcomm isn't saying, but judging by its recent announcements, FloTV hasn't taken off like a rocket. One potential explanation: obscurity. A lot of people don't know the service exists. And carriers have a laundry list of other features they want to push, so they don't always get around to selling the service.

To remedy that, Qualcomm will push its service on iPhones and iPod Touches by hitching a ride on something called the mophie juice pack. Essentially an extra battery disguised as a hard case for the iPhone, the device will have a tiny UHF receiver and Wi-Fi chip embedded to grab FloTV signals. Prices for this doohickey, due out this spring, have not been announced.

It's also reaching out to harried parents who have screens in their backseats to placate their kids. Working with Audiovox, Qualcomm is selling a kit that can be installed into existing rear-seat entertainment systems so that Susie can keep watching "Dora the Explorer" while Mom carts her off to soccer practice.

And last November, Qualcomm started selling its diminutive FloTV Personal TV with six months of free service. After that, it's $10 a month.

Why the rush? With free mobile DTV from local broadcasters approaching fast, Qualcomm may be feeling an urgency to get FloTV out there more quickly than cellphone companies have been taking it.

-- Alex Pham

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