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Watch the X Games on your phone! Available on six handsets nationwide

July 31, 2008 |  2:04 pm
Biker

If you're really hip, you can use your phone to watch athletes ride a half pipe and do lip tricks in real time at the 2008 Summer X Games, which begin today. If you're really, really hip, you may even be able to watch yourself on your phone while you ride a half-pipe.

But you probably won't be. The live dedicated X-Games channel, which is brought to phones by MediaFLO USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of Qualcomm, only works on six handsets on two carriers: AT&T and Verizon. Plus, to see the games live on your phone, you have to sign up for a mobile video data plan from one of those carriers. Oh, and it doesn't work in San Francisco or Boston, where the network isn't set up yet.

The X-Games channel is one of the many cool mobile video services that have rolled out during the last year, including live video of the U.S. Open playoffs between Tiger Woods and Rocco Mediate. But the number of people who can actually watch the videos on their phones is very low. Yankee Group analyst Linda Barrabee said that at the end of last year, only 4% of consumers were regularly watching video or TV on their phones. Even fewer people watch live TV on their phones, since that number includes people watching on-demand video.

New technologies rarely win over the masses rapidly (unless you're Apple). But will mobile video ever become a must-have device on a phone? Will anyone actually want to watch a toothpick-sized Kobe Bryant dunk a pea-sized basketball?

"If you think about the readiness of consumers overall to consumer video and TV on their cellphones, it's still a very small market," Barrabee said. Customers have to pay an extra $15 and up a month to watch live video, and the phones cost upwards of $200, she said. A phone optimized for watching video "isn't always what consumers want when they're buying handsets."

Adoption rates have been growing ...

... since Verizon launched its V Cast mobile service, which is provided by MediaFLO, last year and AT&T launched its MediaFLO service in May. MediaFLO runs over its own network rather than on Verizon's or AT&T's, so it isn’t bogged down by all the other voice and data being transferred over the same network.

Consumers who want to be able to watch sporting events "when you're not at home and the action is breaking" will start signing up, said Matt Milne, senior vice president of sales and marketing at San Diego-based MediaFLO USA.

Maybe subscribers will increase next week when people who just can't tear themselves away from the steeplechase feel compelled to sign up for AT&T's exclusive live video coverage of the Olympics. Or maybe the number of subscribers will grow when all those teenagers who are hip to both technology and the half-pipe finally earn enough money selling lemonade to buy their own phones.

"It takes a few years for people to get a new phone, use mobile video and become addicted," said Lucy Hood, former president of Fox Mobile Entertainment. "That is, unless they are millennials. Then it takes about five minutes."

-- Alana Semuels

Semuels, a Times staff writer, covers marketing and the L.A. tech scene.

Photo: Carl de Souza / AFP/Getty Images

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