In World Cup Broadcasts to Mobile TV Users, Qualcomm’s FLO TV Misses Bigger Goal—Fervor for World’s Most Popular Sporting Event

6/11/10Follow @bvbigelow

[Updated 6/18/10 4:10 pm. See below.] The World Cup soccer tournament that begins today in South Africa ranks as the world’s biggest sporting event in terms of broadcast audience. Alas, if only San Diego-based Qualcomm’s (NASDAQ: QCOM) FLO TV could tap a significant fraction of it.

FLO TV, the Qualcomm subsidiary that provides the broadcast TV infrastructure and service for certain mobile devices, announced that its coverage of the month-long soccer tournament will include a dedicated 24-hour World Cup Channel. AT&T, which offers FLO TV services on certain handsets under its own brand (AT&T Mobile TV), will offer ESPN’s coverage of all 64 World Cup matches. Mobile users also can watch all 64 games on FLO TV Personal Television and Auto Entertainment devices, and FLO TV is broadcasting 56 games on Verizon V Cast mobile TV phones.

But FLO TV is not yet in a position to take advantage of the intense passion for World Cup soccer that exists outside the United States.

The World Cup held in Germany four years ago had a total cumulative television audience of almost 26.3 billion, according to FIFA, the European sponsor otherwise known as Fédération Internationale de Football Association. More than 715 million viewers watched the final match between Italy and France—replete with the infamous head-butting incident by French team captain Zinedine Zidane while the tense overtime match was still tied at 1-1.

[Updated to clarify how FLO TV transmits by satellite to terrestrial broadcast TV infrastructure.] While Qualcomm has laid the groundwork to expand its MediaFLO Technologies in overseas markets—beginning as early as next year in Japan—the mobile broadcast service currently is available in just 112 U.S. media markets and travel corridors. A similar infrastructure would presumably be required before mobile broadcasts could begin foreign markets. In the United States, MediaFLO transmits broadcasts from its San Diego operations center by satellite to Qualcomm’s dedicated terrestrial network of digital mobile TV transmitters.  FLO TV says it serves roughly 200 million points of presence (POPs), but that doesn’t translate into 200 million viewers.

Other smartphone users also will be able to watch World Cup matches, and Bob Tedeschi of The New York Times provides a network-by-network explanation here.

In a statement, FLO TV says: “MediaFLO Technologies has completed successful trials with mobile network operators, content owners, and … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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