By Elizabeth Jensen
Special to TelevisionWeek
BET Mobile and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association are forging the cellphone’s future as a content platform.
Moving into uncharted territory, BET Mobile had little precedent to rely on when it launched its entertainment programming for cellphones last December. “There is no historical empirical data on what works well,” said Monique Ware Robinson, senior director of marketing.
What BET knew was that African Americans are heavy mobile phone users, urban ringtones are the top content downloads and BET itself has relationships with recording artists through popular shows such as “106 & Park.” Moving into mobile ringtones, graphics and games seemed to be a logical “sweet spot,” said Scott Mills, BET’s chief financial officer.
Ms. Robinson had to master some elements that aren’t a factor in other campaigns, mostly related to lead time. Sweepstakes require a 30-day advance registration; getting a “short code” (a five-digit code that phone users text to enter a contest or request a download) and key words from the cellular companies also takes time.
Working with recording artists and labels to secure the exclusive content BET Mobile needed was its own challenge, Ms. Robinson said, noting that labels’ windows of exclusivity are getting “shorter and shorter.”
BET has been able to get artist cooperation, thanks to its longstanding influence in the music industry, said Michael Lewellen, senior VP of corporate communications. “We’ve been key to their success and they are key to our success,” he said.
The first of six campaigns featured 16-year-old R&B singer Chris Brown. Ms. Robinson wrangled 14 pieces of exclusive content, including a ringtone tied to the new single off his debut album. There were also images of the good-looking star that girls ages 12 to 15-a demographic highly familiar with cellphone technology-went crazy for, Ms. Robinson said. A contest to win an appearance with Mr. Brown on “106 & Park” generated 50,000 unique entries.
A more recent campaign featured up-and-coming R&B star Omarion, whose new single was an exclusive BET Mobile ringtone for seven days. The BET Awards Mobile Fan Club will allow artists and the viewing audience to interact during the upcoming BET Awards.
BET is “definitely a pioneer in North America,” said Robert Mesirow, VP of operations for wireless trade association CTIA, noting, “They are putting content out there all the time.”
CTIA administers the vastly simplified cross-carrier short-code applications that networks such as BET are using and “works with advertisers and Madison Avenue to show them how short codes can enhance their marketability,” Mr. Mesirow said. More refinements keep coming, such as the recent integration of short codes and PayPal accounts, simplifying purchases. An auditing program is next, to make sure companies don’t misuse their access to consumers’ phones, he said.
Mobile video “hasn’t exactly exploded out of the gate,” Mr. Mills noted, but African Americans are the one exception. Given the praise BET Mobile has garnered for its campaigns from cellular carriers, as well as the way music labels and consumers have responded, he said, “We really think the sky’s the limit.”
Monique Ware Robinson
Title: Senior director of marketing, BET Mobile
How long in current position: Since January
Year of birth: 1968
Place of birth: Lake Charles, La.
Who knew? “I am a true lady of the South: I can milk a cow, skin a rabbit and pluck a chicken,” Ms. Robinson said.
Title: VP of operations,
Cellular Telecommunications & Internet
How long in current position: Since 1998
Year of birth: 1969
Place of birth: Washington
Who knew? Ice climbing is one of Mr. Mesirow’s free-time pursuits. “When you’re 110 feet up on a frozen waterfall, clinging to life, you don’t think about your cellphone,” he said.