Sunday 20 December 2009

How TVMobile lasted longer than two Glenn Ong marriages

It's a time for joy and celebration. And it's not just because it's Christmas.

What all Singaporeans are celebrating this week - regardless of race, language or religion - is not the birth of Jesus Christ or Singapore’s SEA games medals or the opening of the Uniqlo megastore at 313@Somerset, but the death of TVMobile.

Last Tuesday, as a Christmas present to commuters, MediaCorp announced that it will finally be putting the much loathed mobile TV service out of its misery on New Year's Day - after nine long, baffling years.

Baffling because ever since its multi-million-dollar launch on 1,500 air-conditioned SBS buses in February 2001, TVMobile has been reviled as a service that no one asked for and no one wanted. Yet, it managed to outlast Glenn Ong's second marriage.

And if you take into account that the public trial for TVMobile started in 1999, it actually outlasted both of Glenn's marriages to Kate Reyes (2000 to 2003) and Jamie Yeo (2004 to 2009).

Yes, MediaCorp was more committed to its troubled digital TV platform than Glenn was to his two hot wives.

In its 15 Dec media release announcing the long overdue euthanasia of TVMobile, MediaCorp described it as "a rich source of entertainment and information to commuters".

Commuters would beg to differ. For much of the new millennium, they have written to the press complaining that they could not "switch channels, lower volumes, or turn off the broadcast altogether".

A day after the 2001 launch, one letter writer even wished for its "early demise". His wish didn't come true. Nine years later is not what you can call "early".

MediaCorp's response at the time was: "As with any new technology and service, there will be some teething problems. It may also take some time for people to adapt to the new service."

And how people adapted was by plugging in earphones and looking out the bus window.

Then came the gripes that when TVMobile wasn't rerunning Just For Laughs ad nauseam, it was showing too many Chinese programmes, which didn't reflect Singapore's multiracial society. If there's anything worse than noise pollution, it's noise pollution in a language you don't understand.

Some have suggested that TVMobile is so annoying that it has driven people away from taking public transportation and forcing them to buy cars, thus increasing our carbon emissions.

So in a way, TVMobile is also responsible for killing the Earth. Is it a coincidence that MediaCorp announced the discontinuation of TVMobile in the same week as the Copenhagen climate talks?

Or maybe MediaCorp just realised how lame it is to have communal TV on public transport in the age of PSPs, iPods and other ubiquitous portable personal entertainment devices.

Actually, it's simply because MediaCorp's contract with SBS Transit is expiring.

Whatever the reason, with TVMobile flickering out for good, many commuters will be having a merrier Christmas and happier new year.

But now what is SBS Transit going to do with the 3,600 dead screens on its buses?

- Published in The New Paper, 20 December 2009