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World Cup games hit mobiles

Scaling down action for the smaller screen

Among the list of technology firsts at the World Cup in Germany is the use of a system that can format action to suit mobile phone displays.

For the first time at the global sports event, near-live video clips for mobiles are being produced with a technology known as 'pan and scan', initially developed to adapt screen films to the smaller TV format, according to Brian Elliott, head of international broadcast operations at HBS (Host Broadcast Services).

It works like this: production editors select a core action, whether it's a stunning goal, a pinpoint pass or a crunching tackle, and use pan-and-scan technology to zoom in and produce a clip that is suitable for small screens.

Because the originating feed in the HDTV (high-definition television) digital format ensures that every part of the 16:9 formatted picture is of high quality, any selections of that picture will be equally clear.

The edited clip, typically four minutes in length, is encoded and stored on the central file server of the International Broadcast Centre, operated by HBS on behalf of Fifa.

Licensees, such as mobile phone operators, can transport the files to their home countries either via dedicated data connections or as a secure FTP (file transfer protocol) download from the internet.

Operators can stream the clips to customers over their mobile networks.

T-Mobile, a subsidiary of German telco Deutsche Telekom, has gone one step further, striking a deal to stream games live to customers with phones using high-speed connections, such as 3G (third generation) and HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access).

In addition to streaming, several service providers around the globe are now offering broadcast mobile TV services, which send signals from TV stations directly to mobile phones equipped with special antennas.

In a last-minute deal, MFD (Mobiles Fernsehen Deutschland) secured spectrum from local media authorities to broadcast TV signals to mobile phones using the DMB standard. MFD is collaborating with mobile phone service provider Debitel AG, which launched commercial service on 31 May in several cities, including eight of the twelve hosting World Cup games.

A report from the market research arm of Informa, a publisher of specialist information about the telecom and media sectors, projects up to $300m (about £165m) in revenue from fans watching streamed or broadcast coverage of the World Cup games on their phones.

By 2011 more than 210 million people will be watching TV on their mobile phones, Informa predicts. And with the next World Cup scheduled to take place in South Africa a year earlier, many of them could well be football fans.


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