One of the better panels at this month's DEMXPO (digital entertainment and media) conference was this discussion on mobile video content - what are the business models, what are the projections, and what seems to be working?
Andrew Wallenstein from the Hollywood Reporter moderated, and he was joined by panelists Dave Whetstone (MobiTV), Elizabeth Brooks (GoTV), and an executive from Fun Little Movies. (Sorry, I missed the name on that one.)
The panelists had comments on mobile content production which brought echoes of 1999 - back in the mad rush of customizing Web sites for cell phones. Net-net, mobile content producers need to make adjustments to their TV feeds so that content will be mobile-friendly. The general take was that this could all be done in post-production. It's just too hard to pay for expensive productions, given smaller audiences and undefined business models.
Although the big entertainment brands can draw people in, that's not what mobile audiences are actually watching. Instead, content is most attractive when it's been packaged in small, serialized chunks - two to three minutes is most effective on the small platform. Subject matter such as sports, news, and comedy are big draws and get great audiences. These are more compelling because the info is current (such as constantly-breaking news and scores) and/or related in the form of a conversation (such as stand-up comedy.)
The most surprising idea was the vision of creating pilot programming on cell phones. For a few million dollars, you could launch a channel or do a pilot on a cell phone. (Compared to the hundreds of millions needed to launch a TV channel.) Producers could use mobile viewer response as a mechanism for gauging pilot interest before taking content to a larger screen.
We haven't yet seen the equivalent of the "free cable access" channels on TV. All of the user-generated content - whether those users are consumers or amateur producers - still lacks a path to mobile distribution. A couple of companies are starting to look at this as an opportunity and are working to get videocasts out of blogs and onto phones.
Delivery expertise comes through trial and error, so
content creators tend to rely upon technology businesses (such as the
panelists' organizations) to provide
solutions. The 3G networks and 3G phones needed to provide mobile video
are here now - they're just not as cheap as the mass market will
demand, so noticeable adoption has yet to arrive. The current market is
fewer than one million viewers.
Viewers will come regardless of the inevitable comparisons to traditional television. Most folks are fascinated by this first round of mobile video and don't yet expect it to be the same as a television experience. That being said, producers need to manage viewer expectations carefully. Don't promise full-motion video if the frame rate is low, if images are pixelated, etc. There will still be demand if you communicate to users exactly what they will get, and current systems will be used until something more sophisticated is available.
Carrying the same feeds as TV means that you pick up the same advertisers. More innovative brands are gathering their learnings now and building mobile channel strategies. MobileTV is already structuring "overwrite ads" for 2-3 minutes of each hour. Interestingly, consumers aren't complaining yet about paying for cell phone minutes consumed by advertising. With the current set of adopters, the precedent of cable TV (where you pay for your connection, but still get ads) seems to have set the paradigm for mobile programming.
Try not to be shocked, but the mobile video audience (gasp!) is mostly male and young. Unfortunately for producers, the young, male audience can't generally afford a $250-$300 phone. As the price of video-capable phones approaches (and drops below) $150, the adoption of mobile video should rise dramatically. Mobile TV users aren't necessarily early adopters, but they do have to be able to afford the phones.
Fortunately for the long tail of this market, TV is something that everyone uses, unlike text messaging or specialized ringtones. Even I want a sweet video iPod (60GB and in black, if you please) this Christmas. Tell Santa.