MTV, Cingular cinch pact

Duo deal on mobile content

MTV Networks has pacted with Cingular, the nation’s largest wireless carrier, in a sweeping deal that will offer content from all of its networks.

Pact covering MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, Spike TV and Comedy Central will make available clips from shows like “The Colbert Report,” “South Park” and “Flavor of Love”; the trailer from the upcoming season of “Laguna Beach”; and highlights from classic series like “Beavis & Butt-Head,” among others.

About six hours of original programming will also be offered per week, including “Road Hammers,” a mobile-only series produced by CMT, and the original mobile series “Hip-Hop Owner’s Manual,” from MTV personality Sway.

As in the case of Cingular competitor Verizon Vcast, with which Viacom already has a similar deal, offerings will become part of Cingular’s basic video package, which costs Cingular customers $20-$30 per month. Content is set to go live next week, insiders said.

For Viacom, the agreement means that it now offers some kind of video package on every major wireless carrier in the U.S. — essential for a company whose nets nearly all have a primetime median age under 35.

MTVN had succeeded in luring the other three major carriers aboard many months ago, and some observers had grown antsy over delays in a Cingular pact. Carrier has 55 million subs, and reaching an agreement with Cingular was deemed essential.

But the deal now also moves the industry beyond excuses. Adoption of mobile video has been lethargic — a study in the spring showed that nearly 40% of cell-phone users wouldn’t be willing to pay extra for it — and some execs have previously been able to fault the slowness of some carriers.

Observers have also said the specter of additional monthly fees was scaring off consumers and urged a pay-per-play iTunes model. But Greg Clayman, VP of wireless strategy and operations for MTV Networks, said that there’s little reason to experiment at the moment.

“We’re used to bundles in the U.S.,” he said. “An all-you-can-eat package for a basic set of content is a great way to get consumers interested.”

Clayman did acknowledge the company would consider adding pay-for-play content, in the manner of a premium cable channel, down the road.

A deal for a new carrier also makes for a trickier balance for Viacom, which has to weigh how much attention — and, potentially, exclusive content — to give its various output partners. Verizon and Cingular might offer a broader consumer base, but niche operators like Amp’d could be more aggressive in courting a market.

For Cingular, deal is a much-needed boost in its race against Vcast, which it lags in video. Though company maintains a decent subscriber lead over Verizon, it has thinner content offerings than the No. 2 wireless firm. Cingular has benefited from television through its exclusive voting deal on “American Idol” as well as an exclusive content deal with HBO.

Tensions also are simmering between carriers and content providers over revenue sharing; Warner Bros. launched a direct-to-consumer site for “Superman Returns,” arguing that it was easier for it to learn how to market its content to wireless customers than it would be for a wireless company to create content.

But in the case of television, which has fewer obvious tentpoles, piggybacking on a carrier is generally perceived as the smarter course.

And Clayman said both sides are coming closer on the business model, with splits that are more likely to fluctuate depending on the property.

“We’ve all grown more sophisticated over the last year,” he said.

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