Streaming video technology may still be a few years shy of hitting the mobile phone mainstream, but many prodcos are starting to eye Europe as a potential hotbed for testing content applications in this medium.
The current generation of European users are already heavily into personalized accessories such as ring tones and wall paper, and downloading streaming video content is one small step away, says 4Kids international managing director Simon Philips. Next-gen technology that makes high-level streaming possible is already in the market in Asia and is likely to hit Europe full force by 2006.
Once that capability takes hold, Philips says mobile phone service providers will be reborn as a new breed of broadcasters. Mirroring kids channels, which compete for viewers by offering the best shows, leading-edge service outfits like Orange and Vodafone are likely to start looking for content that gives them a leg up in the battle for users.
Currently, the market seems to be adopting a revenue-sharing model with dual streams – the consumer pays to download the content, and the producer also sees a percentage of the airtime fees collected by the network. Millimages managing director of online Serge Ewenczyk says this could pose some problems for content developers because the pay-per-view model means no money up front for development. Creating the content in Flash – a relatively inexpensive rendering program – eases some of the burden, with Ewenczyk estimating that a minute of mobile phone animation will cost around US$6,000 to produce.
Millimages has signed its first deal with mobile content provider Wonderphone for two shorts in its catalogue. Homiez (32 x one minutes), produced by French studios Lascars and RF2K, is a satire about a group of urban hoodlums that aired on France’s Canal+ and MCM in 1999 and 2000. And manga-inspired Mini Lee (13 x 1.5 minutes), which Millimages developed for French ISP Wanadoo, stars a disaster-prone warrior struggling for inner peace. ‘Web cartoons work well because they are consistent with mobile phone technical constraints, meaning they don’t involve a lot of camera movement and use very simple narration,’ Ewenczyk says. ‘We’re not anticipating actual revenues until 2005, but we had the content, and we’d rather test it and be ready when the market gets going than wait.’
Sesame Workshop plans to launch its European mobile program next year, borrowing content developed with Tokyo-based telecom outfit KDDI for the Asian cell phone market. But the Workshop is also being careful to match content to territorial useage patterns. ‘In Asia, the bulk of our consumer base has been young adults, so the content is skewing somewhat older there,’ says Maura Regan, Sesame’s VP of international licensing and new business development. ‘We are still looking at European demographics to understand where we would be most appropriate and where our brand has the most equity.’
Germany’s EM.TV found the right demo fit when it launched its mobile program for preschool brand Maja the Bee with Cologne-based Plan B Media in November 2003. Though it’s not uncommon to have a target as young as seven in countries like Korea and Japan, EM.TV’s head of marketing Sabine Eckhardt says that’s a bit too young in Germany. But adults have latched onto Maja for nostalgic reasons and because it appeals to their preschool children. ‘With classic brands like ours, what we need to do to keep them alive is modernize them,’ says Eckhardt. ‘And what is important to a child in the modern world? Mobile phones.’
Regan warns from experience that licensing deals for mobile phone content can be complicated. Not only do you have to approve the graphic and video elements, but you also have to get the rights for any music or voices that are used. It’s also important to keep the technical parameters of the medium in mind – including screen size and sound quality – as well as remembering that your audience probably isn’t going to watch clips that are much longer than a minute or two.
Getting the content onto the phones is also still an issue, says 4Kids’ Philips, whose company is currently weighing the merits of publishing its own streaming content based on properties like The Dog and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or hooking up with a third-party developer such as London-based iTouch or L.A.’s Jamdat. At the moment, users have a couple of access options – phoning a toll-free number and ordering the programming (meaning they can’t see the content beforehand), or using their phone to download it from a website, which can be a slow and complicated process.
But Philips says new delivery methods are starting to come to the fore; for example, an Israeli company called Ki-Bi Mobile Technologies has started manufacturing a credit card-shaped product (US$9) that sends encoded content to a phone with the touch of a button.