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Mobile-Phone Movies on the Rise

13 Sep, 2006 By: Jessica Wolf

Although mobile video content is increasing all the time, it is one of the most overhyped things about the cell phone market, speakers and attendees said Sept. 11 at the Mobile Entertainment Summit.

There are a plethora of issues about the quality and kind of video content that's truly viable for the cellular market, and business models are still very much in flux, panelists said.

“We have to be very careful to create value around the handset and make sure the consumer isn't getting more than they are willing to pay for,” said Mark Young, head of business development and strategy for Disney Mobile.

Lots of mobile carriers offer short clips of video content — music videos and the like. Verizon's V Cast service links its users to exclusive programming such as reality “Webisodes” from the CBS show “Rock Star Supernova.” Disney is planning to release a series of 20-minute “mobisodes” for hit show “Lost.” The company has yet to announce which carrier will get these “Lost Video Diaries.”

These types of short bursts of programming, or “content snacks” are driving experimentation in the cellular video market, and are very well-suited to the consumer with the largest appetite for it — teens and young adults, conference panelists said.

There's only one carrier with a real significant lineup of high-profile movie content for download to cell phones — Sprint.

Sept. 5, Sprint launched “Sprint Movies” the first ever pay-per-view service for movies to its PCS Vision users, powered by mSpot. Previously Sprint teamed with mSpot to offer a subscription-model video service stocked with older catalog content.

The Sprint Movies library includes 45 titles, including Spider-Man 2, National Treasure, Scarface, The Village, American Pie, Billy Madison, The Breakfast Club, The Mummy and more. (For now, Sprint is only offering TV-edited versions of the films).

“It won't stay exclusive to Sprint forever,” Darren Tsui CEO and co-founder of mSpot Inc., told HMR. “It's kind of an arms race. V Cast came out with music downloads and now everyone has them. With this movie product I'm sure the same thing will happen.”

Studios were hesitant to release movie content onto mobile phones in the past because they were worried about the user experience. Sprint and mSpot were able to win them over by showing demand for the previous, much less exciting, subscription content, which had 30% month-to-month growth, Tsui said.

“Media companies are starting to understand that portability is going to be a very important part of how people enjoy media and mobile phones are the most widely distributed portable device,” Tsui said.

In August, the Sony Ericsson M600i phone hit, bundled with a memory card that held the full-length film Final Fantasy VII. The phone addressed another major problem for cellular movie viewing with a powerful 6-8 hour battery life for playback, said Andre Pagnac, president and CEO of software company Actimagine, which created the movie memory card for the phone.

The next step, Pagnac said, is taking a device like the Sony Ericsson phone and giving it a TV output so when the mobile user gets home, they transfer that movie experience from the small screen to their home entertainment center.

There is that nagging question of how much people really want to watch full-length movies on a tiny cell phone screen.

“I'm skeptical that there's a huge amount of free time to watch a movie when you are not already in front of a much better screen,” said Dave Goldberg, VP and GM of music for Yahoo! Inc. “There's only so much time in the day to watch videos and it's a primary experience, not like music, music is a secondary experience.”

One way cellular carriers differentiate their offerings from products like the iPod is leveraging the fact that the phone is always connected to the Internet, Tsui said.

A mobile phone user can order and view cell phone video from wherever they are, then text their friends about it, he said.

“It's an evolution,” Tsui said. “Today the displays are good enough that we're starting to see real revenue and real adoption of people consuming video on mobile phones. Can it get better? Yes. Will it get better? For sure.”

According to Gartner research, by 2008, one-tenth of the world's mobile users will use their handsets as video players and to download news, sports and entertainment clips.

“Our philosophy on how the mobile market will play out is it's not going to kill movies or TV, it's not even going to kill the iPod,” Tsui said. “The experience you're going to have on the phone could be and should be very different than what you would have on any other device.”

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