Free to air mobile TV remains key to the nascent platform’s success, according to analyst research released this week.

While more than 330 million mobile users worldwide are forecast to own broadcast TV-enabled handsets by 2013, less than 14 per cent will opt for mobile pay TV services, research house Juniper said Tuesday.

The researcher said that its current estimate that mobile broadcast TV will generate global annual end-user revenues of $2.7bn by 2013, is markedly lower than previously forecast.

“The development of terrestrial TV-capable receivers with comparatively low power consumption, and the availability of these receivers in mass market handsets, throws into question the business case for the deployment of a dedicated network in many markets,” said Juniper Research analyst, Windsor Holden.

Holden notes that operator decisions to offer DVB-T handsets in Germany has effectively closed the door for DVB-H in Germany, and argues that the strong take-up of analogue TV handsets in China – and of one-seg handsets in Japan – indicates that free-to-air services will continue to predominate.

However, Holden also notes that this trend in turn has created a further opportunity for streamed TV services. “There will always be a market for some form of premium TV service on the mobile handset, and with broadcast TV in many markets likely to consist simply of the free-to-air terrestrial signals, the gap in the market is likely to be filled by streamed video-on-demand services over the 3G network,” he said.

As Dermot Nolan, director of the TBS consultancy, recently noted, despite some optimistic field-trial results, the pay-business model for mobile TV always looked challenging and consumer take-up has been relatively low. The problem is that while mobile-telephone customers pay for voice, SMS, ringtones and mobile broadband “dongles” (now a popular DSL substitute), everything else is perceived to be “free”: cameras, wifi, FM radio, games and MP3 players (with the notable exception of Apple).