Using a mobile phone solely to make calls is as passé as shooting on 8mm. These days, cell phone users employ their handsets to surf the web, snap pictures and send emails. And the mobile-centric masses in Europe and Asia – who are from one to three years ahead of their North American counterparts – are already using video-capable phones to watch programming.
Plugged-in producers heard the call of the mobile market in the early days, and were eager to access the platform’s wide audiences. As did employees of Tarzana, California-based Powersports Powerdocs, a production and distribution company that started a separate cell business in 1999 called Waat Media Wireless Entertainment. Waat deals in distribution and enabling on mobile platforms, and represents about 20 producers across such genres as animation, sports and erotic entertainment. Its revenues have doubled each quarter since Q2 of 2004.
Part of the appeal of the wireless world, says Waat managing director Adi McAbian, is that mobile operators’ business models are similar to those of cable players. Unlike Internet service providers, who solely deliver content, wireless carriers go a step further and also have a direct billing relationship with their customers.
While teens and pre-teens already see cell phones as an entertainment platform, it’s a challenge to get older customers to do the same, says McAbian. This task may be made easier with the rollout of mobile TV, a service that will enable subscribers to watch tv broadcasts on their cell phones.
Non-fiction producers anxious to create original mobile programming should know that delivering such content is more tech heavy than it is for TV, forewarns McAbian. The terminals are all slightly different, so Waat has to create about 12 different deliverables for each operator to support their network and accommodate the various screen sizes, frame rates and file size limitations.
Producers should also know that the medium demands succinct content, as the average viewing session lasts five to eight minutes, says McAbian. ‘[Mobile] programming is a snack, not a meal,’ he says. ‘I can make the greatest rack of lamb, but cell phone users really want a Snickers bar.’ He adds that if producers repurpose content, it should be done specifically with cell phones in mind.
However, one innovative example of using existing material for mobile programming involves a deal between National Geographic’s Film Library and GignoSystem America. The arrangement allows North American and European mobile subscribers to receive Nat Geo science, geography and nature video clips on their handsets, as well as a weekly adventure series comprised of 90-second to two-minute features.
Producers getting into the mobile realm also need to consider handset bandwidth limitations. McAbian says the majority of today’s G2.5 handsets are capable of roughly a 20 kilobyte per second (KBPS) stream. With 3G broadband networks, that will expand to anywhere from 128 to 400 KBPS (broadband currently runs at 100 to 250 KBPS). He also notes that while some operators won’t let producers put anything more than 300K on their network, others go up to one MEG.
While there is yet to be a standardized delivery method for carriers, the onset of 3G networks – plus the North American market playing catch-up to European and Asian cell devotees – means this will likely change. And when that happens, non-fiction producers will get a bigger slice of the mobile pie.