Roly Keating On Broadcasting
Two years with my video-pod has made me a mobile TV convert
Monday 03 October 2005
Just in case you're not, it's worth explaing that the trial is run by Arqiva, in partnership with the mobile company O2, and (for those who like to know these things) it uses the new DVB-H standard to beam full broadcast networks to specially adapted Nokia handhelds. BBC 2 is one of 16 channels available.
There are plenty of sceptical voices out there asking if anyone would ever seriously want to watch full-channel TV on the move, let alone pay good money for the privilege. Surely, they say, the viewing experience will always be too compromised, the quality too bad, for anyone to use it as much more than a gimmick – or at best a last resort if you can't make it to a "proper" telly.
Well, I've effectively been a mobile TV user for well over two years now, and I beg to differ. Think of me if you like as a kind of one-person focus group. My findings are of course wholly objective and reliable.
The machine I've been using is one of the early "video-pod"-style devices pioneered by the French company Archos. It's pretty easy to feed with content (you just record in real time from any video source), although unlike the Nokias in the Oxford trial it's not actually a receiver.
Where do I watch? Almost everywhere, really. On the Tube. Walking down the street. Crossing Wood Lane. You start developing certain rules and habits: press "pause" when a noisy lorry goes past, rely more on the soundtrack for a bit when the sun gets too bright.
What's fascinating is that far from diminishing the quality of the viewing experience, the combination of a high-quality mobile screen and good sound can bring the experience of watching TV closer to the intimacy and concentration of reading a book or magazine. You can "lose yourself" in a great programme in a way that's not always easy amid the distractions of typical living-room viewing. I once sat in a crowded cinema enjoying a BBC drama on my portable screen while my son and his friends watched an interminable Will Smith comedy as a birthday outing. It's not unknown for my family to find me on the sofa keeping half an eye on the main TV while watching something else on the Archos.
I know my job makes me a peculiarly compulsive viewer of TV content, and that this must all sound rather sad to normal people, but I've a feeling this kind of restless, multi-layered consumption is going to become more common as the mobile rev-olution matures. All media – print, music,images, sound, telephony – have gradually broken free of their moorings, become ever more portable and mobile. TV is on its version of that journey now, and as I sit happily on the Central Line watching the latest new show for BBC 2, I suspect there's no turning back.
BBC 2 will always be spiky
It may have something to do with my own greying hair, but I've had a certain amount of teasing since the Edinburgh TV Festival for daring to suggest that a channel such as BBC 2 (born 1964) might have to pass through a mild " midlife moment" on its inevitable journey to digital triumph. My comment was of course insulting to the BBC 2 team, all of whom are strikingly youthful and fresh-faced.
I blame Stuart Prebble, whose brilliant creation Grumpy Old Men somehow distilled an entire zeitgeist when it launched two years ago. His series, with its middle-aged wits railing against the general awfulness of almost everything, chimed with the channel's characteristically individualistic and spiky attitude to the world. It's a flavour that I suspect will always be part of the channel, not least because the theme of confronting age and the passing of time is one of the great themes of comedy. Paul Whitehouse tackles it in virtuoso style with his various troubled characters in Help, and in this autumn's Sensitive Skin Joanna Lumley gives the performance of a lifetime as a woman facing the reality of no longer being young.
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