TV Worth Leaving Home for
By Kate Bulkley
Major TV studios and specialised independents alike are now throwing themselves into making content for mobiles. Kate Bulkley checks out their offerings
Six months ago, the Mipcom Mobile Content Awards was virtually an afterthought for the television industry. The occasion attracted few entrants and little interest. Last month, the story at the television programming market in Cannes was very different. Some 135 companies from 30 countries – both from the usual TV heavyweights like the US and the UK plus such nations as Nigeria, Brazil and Russia – submitted a total of 230 entries.
These contained both worldwide TV phenomena like Disney’s Desperate Housewives and Fox’s 24 alongside brand-new content from specialist mobile media producers with names like Inventa Productions, Cinema Electric and Cyoshi Mobile.
The ripple in April had turned into a rather large wave by October and the growth in production and interest in mobile content seems to be continuing unabated. “The quality of the submissions for the awards has gone up 100-fold since April,” says Peter Cowley, director of interactive media at Endemol.
Just as with satellite and digital TV in the past, the mobile content marketplace seems to have reached a tipping point whereby it becomes an unstoppable new force in the entertainment business.
The most obvious first step to fill the mobile minutes was re-jigging already-used TV content. That means downloading or streaming programme highlights or extras – one way that the big US studios have re-purposed TV hits such as Desperate Housewives and 24. To be fair, Fox went a bit further with 24 making short 24-like episodes with completely new content (but minus the original cast), a form the US studio dubbed the “mobisode”. There are also a plethora of straightforward downloads of music videos or sports programme highlights or simply streaming live coverage of a TV show like Big Brother.
The use of known brands in mobile content has been exploited to good success and that is likely to continue.
Inventa Productions, a UK-based mobile content producer, in association with FremantleMedia, has re-purposed a Jamie Oliver cooking show made for the US market into a handheld version for Vodafone. Jamie’s Mobile Kitchen is a series of 100 cooking shows in tasty three-minute bites featuring the celebrity chef with the added feature of being able to download the recipe into your phone to create a virtual recipe book. “It cost us a lot but we needed to be established with large brands like Jamie Oliver because we’re not a brand ourselves like MTV,” says Youssef Hammad of Inventa Productions.
Emphasis on interactivity
The traditional TV companies are taking this new platform seriously. Sky has launched SkyMobile with Vodafone, which will stream TV channels to 3G mobile handsets, while Endemol has announced the formation of a new division to create mobile content.
But perhaps the most interesting development – and the one that will take mobile content to new heights – is the glut of genuinely new content for mobiles, much of it being made by non-traditional TV companies and producers.
Inventa, for example, prides itself in creating music review shows especially for mobile content users presented by both known and unknown names. BBC Radio 1’s Pete Tong fronts three music shows a week for Inventa, which records 70,000 downloads a week on 3 at 50 pence a pop.
The maker of Wallace and Gromit, Aardman Productions, has in the last month launched a new animation character – Big Jeff – never before seen on TV or film, targeted at mobiles and the internet.
“Big Jeff is a subversive-type character and the marketing is all about word of mouth and showing people what you’ve got on your phone,” says Sean Clarke, head of licensing and marketing at Aardman Animations. Big Jeff is – to put it bluntly – a nude Australian who lives up to all of the worst hard-drinking and swearing stereotypes of lads from down under.
“What we have found is that if you can make something that’s entertaining for a 15-second viewing experience on a mobile, that’s a lot more powerful than cutting down a movie or taking clips from a half-hour TV show,” says Clarke.
Besides good animation and comedy, another key to making good (and award-winning) mobile content is to create telly-style content with interactivity integrated into it.
A good example at Mipcom was Dateline, a mobile application launched by interactive entertainment company YooMedia in the UK in August this year. Dateline won the Mipcom Mobile award for Best Mobile TV Channel or Service, and marries user--generated content (the videos sent by people looking for a date) with clever interactivity.
“Where content and service meet is probably where the killer application is,” says Cowley.
DIY content creation
“Content is still king like it is in TV, but in mobile a lot of that content is going to be created by the consumer,” says Mark Selby, vice-president of rich media and music for Nokia and the chairman of the Mipcom Mobile Awards jury. “There is still a lot of room for content created by the big Hollywood studio or producer, but the real sweet spot is the content providing the context for the interaction.”
One example of a new form of mobile content that didn’t win an award at Mipcom but that got everyone talking was Blog TV. Created by an Israeli firm called Tapuz People, the idea is that anyone can create their own TV content using their camera on their phone and then offer it to other people to watch and comment on with a text chat interaction that scrolls along with the videos.
In the UK mobile operator 3 took the idea behind Blog TV one step further when it launched SeeMe TV last month. On the 3 service every time someone downloads your video you get paid a small fee, a sort of twist on the time-honoured practice coined by TV shows like You’ve Been Framed, that pays a fee if a viewer’s video is shown.
With the number of mobiles growing, there will be no lack of content-creating consumers. There are now enough mobile phones with 3G capacity (4 million in the UK alone out of a total of 60 million) to create a reasonably large audience for content makers to speak to.
And, of course, it doesn’t take too long for the creativity to increase the demand for these one- to three-minute mobile shows.
As the content improves and the marketplace grows, so the chances of companies making significant money from mobile content downloads or video streaming increase. This search for cash is bound to unleash even more creative juices in the near future.
Meanwhile, advertisers – Apple’s iPod has already promoted itself with ads on mobile content – will begin to see increasing opportunities and give support to the mobile content maker’s mill.
Has mobile content come of age? Well, typically in the fast-moving world of global communications, this question may be almost out of date. Perhaps we should be asking another question: “How do we get into the mobile content market as quickly as possible?”
“The business models are still a bit of a struggle but the other positive indicators are that we are moving from just a re-hashing of telly content to original mobile content like Pete Tong’s mobile music show,” concludes Cowley. “This proves that there is a real market starting.”