Soccer fans have focused all week on Germany, where the World Cup is under way.
Tech firms also have shown a keen interest in the recent goings-on in Deutschland. That's because the tournament is a testing ground for what many hope will be the tech industry's next big thing: mobile TV.
At least two European cell-phone television services have gone live to coincide with the tournament, with plans to broadcast all 64 games in their entirety. And companies such as
are planning special events around the tournament.
For the chip companies, handset makers and service providers involved, these first broadcasts should provide important feedback about consumers' appetite for mobile TV and the viability of the current technology.
Sports, after all, are considered one of the primary drivers for cell-phone TV viewing -- and the World Cup is the most widely watched sporting event in the world. If cell-phone TV flops at the World Cup, what hope is there?
Many tech companies, however, are expecting that the tournament will mark mobile TV's official coming-out party.
"What this industry needs for people to get
the appeal is a really important event that you're going to see the value of. And I think that the World Cup is really a good intersect point for this industry," says Yoram Solomon, Texas Instruments' director of strategic marketing and industry standards.
Some surveys have found that only 5% to 11% of respondents would pay a monthly fee to get TV on their cell phones, says Solomon. But he says the numbers spike to as high as 75% after people have actually been exposed to mobile TV through demonstrations and trials.
TI and Nokia will host an event in Munich next month where guests can watch the semifinal match on cell phones.
Texas Instruments is one of many companies with big hopes for mobile TV. Already the world's No.1 provider of chips for cell phones, TI has a new all-in-one chip, dubbed Hollywood, that enables cell phones to receive specially configured television broadcasts.
Earlier this month,
plunked down $127 million to acquire
, a small Korean company that makes low-power radio tuners for TV viewing on cell phones. And
is pushing its own mobile TV technology set to debut in the U.S sometime in 2007.
For chipmakers, mobile TV means more revenue per cell phone, explains Citigroup analyst Glen Yeung. If a company is selling $10 worth of chips into a cell phone today, for example, that value will decline to $8 tomorrow, says Yeung. But with new features such as mobile TV, a chipmaker can charge $12.
"That's the idea: adding content for phones amidst a market that's always trying to reduce costs," says Yeung, whose firm has received non-investment-banking compensation from TI in the past 12 months.
While mobile TV is still in its infancy, Yeung points to camera phones as an example of how rapidly new technology can become standard issue in handsets. "That was a small market, and it exploded very quickly," Yeung says.
Whether mobile TV technology is ready for prime time is something that will become clear in the next few weeks. Battery life, screen brightness and indoor reception are among the issues that will be monitored and perhaps altered on the basis of the World Cup experience.
Of Perks, and Lack Thereof
If there's one group of Germans who haven't partaken of the World Cup fever sweeping their nation, it's the 2,900 poor sods toiling at
Advanced Micro Devices'
chip factories in Dresden.
True, many employers in soccer-crazy countries shut down business (Costa Rica reportedly declared a national holiday) or bring televisions to the office when the home team takes the field.
But at AMD, it's business as usual, World Cup or not. Business hours, staffing levels and output will all remain unchanged (although the company says it has set up an intranet site for workers to check the latest scores).
Of course, given all the recent fears of an industrywide chip inventory glut, maybe a little break to watch the game wouldn't be a bad thing.
Any disgruntled AMD workers might consider sending a resume to
which showed a tad more corporate benevolence Monday when it announced that it would give each of its 8,500 employees a top-of-the-line 30-gigabyte video iPod.
The well-publicized handout was apparently to reward the workers for a year of record operating profits and gross margin. Since National makes the power management chips that go into the video iPod, the company effectively repurchased its own chips at
But what's a little extra operating expense when you're investing in morale?