NATPE 2006: Timely Event Speaks To Interest in Mobile

Jan 23, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The concept of TV on the cellphone was little more than an afterthought for program executives a year ago, and as the subject of the inaugural National Association of Television Program Executives Mobile++ conference in 2005 it was largely laughed off.

But this year, now that mobile television is increasingly considered a massive opportunity for content providers, members of the TV industry are decidedly more serious about the potential of TV programming on the very small screen. Attendance at this year’s NATPE Mobile++ on Jan. 23 is expected to reflect that shift. Last year about 320 people attended the summit organized by iHollywood Forum and NATPE. This year iHollywood said it is expecting 500.

Lucy Hood, president of Fox Mobile Entertainment, a unit created last year to take advantage of the mobile opportunity, said 2005 was “the year that mobile video became a real business.” She plans to attend Mobile++ this year.

CBS and NBC Universal made two of the most recent plunges into the mobile TV world. Earlier this month CBS said it will develop original mini-soaps for the cellphone. The announcement came on the heels of its decision in December to offer clips from “Survivor,” “CSI” and other shows as well as a customized version of “Entertainment Tonight” to Verizon’s V Cast mobile TV service.

NBC Universal said it is creating original mobile content from “Access Hollywood” for the new mobile entertainment service Amp’d Mobile.

The V Cast launch last year, and the regular addition throughout the year to the lineup of new high-profile content providers such as ESPN, Comedy Central, MTV, CNN and CBS, signified that big players-cellular carriers and networks alike-are keen on the mobile opportunity. Yankee Group predicts mobile TV will become an $800 million business in 2009, up from $16 million in 2004, due to increasing consumer usage, more content and associated subscription fees and advertising.

Also in 2005, Court TV launched four forms of mobile programming with the SmartVideo service; ESPN introduced an ESPN service and a phone imprinted with “ESPN,” and Fox proved there is an appetite for mobisodes, a term it coined for short content developed for the cellphone, when it introduced four mobisodes at the start of last year, including a customized version of “24” called “24: Conspiracy.”

Now “24: Conspiracy” runs in 25 countries and five languages and has reached double-digit take rates in some of those markets, she said. It’s available in the U.S. on V Cast.

This year Fox will expand the length of its mobisodes to two minutes, explore advertising opportunities and launch an aggressive marketing campaign for mobile content, Ms. Hood said.

“You will see Fox flexing its content and marketing muscle in the mobile space [this year],” she said.

While mobile TV is still quite nascent, consumers’ rising usage of camera phones and text messaging demonstrates they will use the cellphone for more than voice, said Cyriac Roeding, VP of wireless with CBS Digital Media.

“Consumers are now seeing their cellphones as more than a device for talking and are using the cellphone in different ways,” he said. With nearly 202,000 wireless customers in the United States, the cellphone is a potential new platform for TV that can’t be ignored. “You will see us as one of the key leaders in this space, and anything less would not make me happy,” Mr. Roeding said.

The willingness to invest in mobile content stems in part from the explosive interest consumers have shown in online video, said Galen Jones, executive VP and chief strategy officer for Court TV. The transition from broadband video to mobile video is an easy step because content providers are getting accustomed to programming for smaller screens. “The success of broadband made it clear that video should move into many new platforms,” Mr. Jones said.

Also this year, wireless technology provider Qualcomm will introduce its MediaFLO platform in the fourth quarter, a next-generation architecture that uses broadcast spectrum rather than cellular spectrum to help mobile video scale better as usage grows. MediaFLO relies on multicast technology, meaning videos are sent once to all users in a market rather than on a one-to-one basis, as most cellular providers do today, said Jeff Lorbeck, senior VP and general manager for MediaFLO. The technology should help eliminate traffic jams as more consumers request mobile video, he said. Verizon Wireless has signed up to use the technology.