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Getting Ready for Primetime: 2006 Mobile Video Year in Review

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Programming the Third Screen
In terms of consumer preference, mobile video is quickly becoming known as the "third screen," after television and the PC. For the most part, mobile video programming is dominated by repurposed television content.

The major carriers have been busy rolling out and expanding subscription mobile video services over the last year. Sprint was the first carrier to offer live streaming and video clips back in 2003. Analysts estimate that Sprint had 1 million mobile video subscribers by the end of the second quarter of 2006, compared with Verizon’s 1.2 million V Cast subscribers.

The almost daily announcements about mobile programming deals in 2006 were reminiscent of the early days of cable or satellite television. Most of the deals involved repackaging existing content into smaller clips. Using a similar strategy over the past couple of years, MTV now claims to be the world’s largest mobile content provider. During the month of March, MTV said it streamed 2.5 million shows, up 40% in just one month.

While most carriers have initially focused on live television services or repackaging existing video content, there were an increasing number of experiments to develop "mobisodes" or made-for-mobile programming. HBO extended the storyline of its popular series Entourage to mobile devices by showing the cast producing a mobisode. CBS is said to be developing a soap opera exclusively for mobile devices, and News Corp. recently announced it will produce original mobile-targeted episodes of The Simpsons.

Most programmers aren’t expecting a windfall anytime soon from originally produced mobisodes, but they do see the value in learning about the nuances of this new medium. "If anybody says they’ve figured this out right now, they haven’t," Christina Norman, MTV’s president, told The New York Times Magazine in May. MTV’s first domestic made-for-cell series, Sway’s Hip-Hop Owner’s Manual, is a documentary program that deciphers the evolving lexicon of rap music.

MobiTV, a mobile television and radio service launched in 2003, hit a milestone in May, garnering 1 million subscribers. It delivers a mix of live television channels like CNN, ESPN 3G TV, and The Weather Channel, along with original and repackaged video clips. According to Kay Johansson, chief technology officer at mobiTV, they are having greater success with originally produced content compared with repurposed television content: "Of our six most popular channels, three are produced by us. They are niche-based music channels."

Most of the video content repurposed for mobile has not been formatted properly. For example, fonts designed for a larger screen are virtually illegible on a mobile screen. Mobile devices only deliver video at a rate of 15 frames per second, compared with television at 30 frames per second. As a result, quick pan movements won’t work for mobile, and close-ups are preferred for the smaller screen.

Most assume short clips are more appropriate for mobile devices, but Charles Wiltgen, former project manager for content service for MediaFLO at Qualcomm, challenges that notion. "Most would like to think that long-form is a nonstarter for mobile," he says, "but those running on a treadmill at the gym could conceivably use their cell phone to watch their favorite shows." In fact, HBO has made full-length episodes of Sex in the City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Entourage available to Cingular subscribers. Sprint has gone a step further, announcing it will sell pay-per-view movies.

Consumers’ Tepid Reception of Mobile Video
"I don’t think mobile video is nearly as important for your average consumer with the exception of watching what I like to call ‘internet freakshow videos,’ weather reports, or traffic updates," says Scott Cunningham, multimedia technologies manager at USA Today.

Even as mobile video became more prevalent in 2006, it was music services that really resonated with consumers. Many analysts agree that music is currently the key driver for the adoption of "advanced" mobile phones. According to NPD Group, 16% of phones sold in the second quarter of 2006 were music-enabled, up from just under 2 million in 2005 to over 3 million.

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