How to: broadcast to phones

TV on mobile phones is increasingly popular, but how do the images get on that tiny screen?

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Whether it's for Stanley Cup playoff highlights or the World Cup, wireless telecom carriers have been heavily advertising services that let you watch television on mobile phones. But how do TV images get on that tiny screen?

For one thing, the carriers don't do it themselves. In Canada, the technology is managed by Toronto-based QuickPlay Media. First, the content has to be compressed into a single file. It's then integrated into QuickPlay's content management system. Files are transcoded into as many as 12 different sizes to account for the wide range of wireless network speeds and mobile-phone screen sizes. The files also get meta tags with descriptive information about the content.

Subscribers are able to find content through a menu system, which is offered on the network by the carriers, but managed by QuickPlay. When a subscriber selects a clip, QuickPlay either downloads or streams the file over the network to the phone. QuickPlay then sends a reconciliation file to the carrier's billing system.

One hitch? Sifting through as many as 800 clips. QuickPlay is working on a system to customize content. “Developing that will blow the market open,” says QuickPlay's chief creative officer and co-founder Raja Khanna. “This could be a mass-market sort of thing. Everyone likes video.”