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Italian mobile TV service hits target

3 Italia signs up 300,000 subscribers to DVB-H

ROME — Italian mobile phone operator 3 Italia announced on Friday that as of January 1 it had topped the 300,000 subscriber mark for its new DVB-H mobile TV service, but overall growth is occurring at a slower-than-expected rate.

The figure misses the initial goal of signing up 500,000 subscribers by year-end set by CEO Vincenzo Novari last year. Still, 3 Italia, which had a head start on rivals, is believed to be well in front of competitors Telecom Italia Mobile and Vodafone Italia, which have yet to release official sales figures.

3 Italia, which is majority owned by Hutchison Whampoa, launched the mobile TV service in June coinciding with the World Cup soccer tournament and registered 111,000 subscribers in under two months.

A spokesman said 3 Italia also has seen a recent surge in subscribers during the run up to Christmas, aided by 3 Italia’s program offer for round-the-clock coverage of the Mediaset property “Big Brother.”

Plus, the company is planning to unveil this spring a new service “3 Pocket TV,” which includes a new phone with a 4.3-inch screen — double the screen size of the current handset — a move, the company hopes, could get reluctant consumers to try out the technology.

According to a recent report by tech analysts Frost & Sullivan, the DVB-H mobile TV market is expected to expand from $60 million in 2006 to $2.04 billion in 2010, making it the leading mobile TV technology in the world; DMB is still the preferred technology in pioneering markets such as South Korea and Japan.

Similar DVB-H services have been launched recently across Western Europe, but are slow to take off as the signal coverage area is still in build out phase.

Overall, the core market for mobile TV is seen as being the primarily male, road warrior types. Not surprisingly, 3 Italia says its most popular programming is sports and news. It carries 12 channels from Italian broadcasters Mediaset, RAI and Sky Italia, including live soccer matches from the Italian, English, Spanish, Brazilian and German leagues.

On Friday, 3 Italia also said it will begin exporting its expertise to foreign territories, helping other mobile operators set up services on their home turf. The first partner is Malaysia’s Maxis Communication, for whom 3 Italia will provide know-how on billing, build-out and phones for a launch there later this year. “In Malaysia, we will provide everything but the programming,” a spokesman explained.

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