Tiny Time Slot, Big Plan

Jul 17, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Mobile television programmer GoTV Networks plans to premiere today a made-for-mobile reality show that will be one of the first significant programming experiments for the emerging cellular video business.

GoTV’s “Primped” is a 30-episode unscripted series in the makeover genre that runs for six weeks. Sprint customers with access to mobile TV content can get all 30 episodes for $6.99.

Given the show’s run and the investment by more than 12 advertisers into branded integration in the show, GoTV’s “Primped” is one of the boldest mobile programming experiments to date in cellular TV. GoTV has amassed more than 100,000 subscribers for its stable of 12 premium channels since its 2005 relaunch as a mobile TV programmer.

Also, GoTV, which produces mobile programming in several different genres for its channels, can look to a veteran to guide the endeavor. Daniel Tibbets, GoTV’s executive VP and head of development and programming, previously worked at Fox, where he oversaw the development of Fox’s groundbreaking work in cellular video with the introduction of the industry’s first “mobisodes,” or TV episodes made specifically for cellphone viewing, in early 2005. While those shows-mobile versions of “24” and “The Simple Life”-were spinoffs from existing TV shows, “Primped” exists solely as a digital program.

Broadcast and cable networks, as well as studios and other content providers, are also developing programs for the third screen by resurrecting unused clips, reconfiguring existing programs and creating original content for the on-the-go consumer, such as CBS’s planned mini-soaps for mobile TV and NBC’s existing wine-tasting show. “Primped” will also be a proving ground for product placement in mobile TV shows.

Youth, Youth, Youth

“Primped” has integrated more than 12 brands, including Conair, Dollhouse, Divina, Biatta Intimates and Union Bay. That’s helped cover costs, since the advertisers’ investments represent 15 to 20 percent of the show’s budget, Mr. Tibbets said.

GoTV’s new effort has youth written all over it. The show’s a dead-on target for the 16- to 24-year-old demographic. Popular model Vida Guerra hosts the show, in which three “plain Janes” are made over.

A show like “Primped” is a good match for Sprint, said Kaan Yigit, an analyst with Solutions Research Group in Toronto. Fashion shows tend to do well among young audiences and among African American and Hispanic audiences, who are usually more fashion-forward, and Sprint is strong in those demos, he said. In fact, Sprint boasts more than 30 percent of the combines African American and Hispanic market for handsets and 27 percent market share of the 20 to 29 age group for cellphones, Mr. Yigit said.

The trick to making “Primped” pop will be to generate the elusive buzz and word of mouth that is so critical to success for youth, he said. “You need buzz. Without buzz, you have nothing,” he said.

Ahead of the Wave

GoTV will rely on carrier marketing, cross-promotion with its advertising partners-such as a text-to-win contest sponsored by Dollhouse-and promotion from Ms. Guerra on her Web site and MySpace pages.

Mr. Tibbets said he’s aiming to get out in front of what many expect will be a coming wave of interest in mobile TV. For instance, mobile market researcher M:Metrics said the U.S. penetration of third-generation phones, capable of delivering better-quality video than previous handsets, has risen from under 500,000 a year ago to about 4.8 million today. Those numbers should grow quickly because U.S. consumers tend to replace their cellphones about every 18 months. JupiterResearch predicts mobile video subscribers will grow from 1 percent of cellphone users in 2005 to 5 percent in 2010.

Each episode of “Primped” runs for two to four minutes, and new editions debut every weekday. The makeover contest winner receives a grand prize package valued at more than $20,000. The series will be available for purchase for the rest of the year.

The show features a mix of quick tips on hair, makeup and fashion as well as the staples of reality shows, such as catfights and nights on the town. Mr. Tibbets contends the combination of informational tips and short entertainment bites is what mobile customers want.

But “Primped” is not a new genre and certainly not groundbreaking in content. That’s the point, Mr. Tibbets said. “In developing new formats for new platforms you have to take what the consumer is familiar with and twist it just enough to make it unique and original,” he said.

Part of that twist comes in the way the show is shot with close-ups for the small screen. Episodes won’t include many MTV-style cut-ins or lingering shots. Also, program producers must build a story arc and a tease for the next episode in a sardine-size time slot. “Every second is critical to the success of that single episode,” Mr. Tibbets said. “We have to engage them from the first episode and tell them what they are about to see and hold them till that conclusion.”

The next three years should yield a flurry of programming experiments for mobile TV, including exclusive shows as well as repurposed content, to see which short bursts best fit the time consumers have to watch TV on their phones, Mr. Yigit said.

Programmers want to learn how to connect the dots between mobility, communications and video, said John Gauntt, an analyst with eMarketer. “The maverick person or people who will win are those who are able to look at the unique value of mobility and entertainment and distill it into a business proposition that hits the consumer in the face with a 2-by-4 of relevance and `obvious’ need,” he said.

GoTV received about $15 million in venture capital last year through Bessemer Ventures and Charles River Ventures. GoTV expects to break even at the end of 2007.