Mobile market hits cell block in content delivery sweepstakes

NoTodoFilmFest firmly establish in film, Web community

MADRID — The H5N1 virus has been on the lips of Spain’s short-film community.

No cause for concern. The bird flu in question is “H5N1,” the title of a visually stunning, tragicomic mockumentary that asks, “How many love stories have been curtailed?” among ducks in a park supposedly affected by the mortal illness.

Made by young Spanish director Jim-Box, “H5N1” took the top prize in March at the fourth notodofilmfest.com, a popular Spanish Internet film festival. Just 1 minute and 40 seconds long, the micro-short has seen 10,684 downloads.

With 1,400 short films from 25 countries, including the U.S., Germany, the U.K. and France, and around 800,000 downloads, NoTodoFilmFest is now firmly established.

The success of the fest points out that Spain’s mobile phone operators still lag behind the Internet in the grand dream of content delivery — and enhanced revenue streams.

NoTodoFilmFest’s short pics also are distributed by 3G mobile phone, but selectively. Only pieces under 30 seconds can be downloaded. That more or less sums up the current state of mobile phone vs. Internet production/distribution in Spain. The Internet offers increasingly interesting alternatives for filmmakers, while mobile TV has yet to show the color of its money.

Despite Spain’s mature cell phone market — 97% penetration, 43 million clients — its main operators are still largely experimenting with film and TV content, adopting positions to cover future commercial eventualities.

Doubts persist about market takeup. There are currently insurmountable technological barriers to 3G network film and TV usage.

“Why should young people pay for cell phone videoclips when they’re used to downloading them free off the Internet?” asks filmmaker Borja Crespo.

This year, average revenue per user for Spain’s Movistar, the cell phone brand of telco Telefonica, is around $40.50. But only 13% of that comes from data transmission, including TV, music and vidgames; that’s up only fractionally from 2005’s 12.5%.

Luis Padron, an analyst at Fortis Bank, says, “3G networks don’t have sufficient bandwidth to allow nationwide distribution of the new services. It will take four to five years for technology to upgrade enough.”

That’s in line with the U.K. where, per a Screen Digest estimate, 3G network capacity for TV and video is 7.5 million simultaneous users.

Still, with current mobile film/TV takeup in Spain well below these figures, some cell phone content is emerging. In November, France Telecom’s mobile phone operator Amena launched comedy “Supervillanos,” about an intergalactic family forced to land on Earth.

“Supervillanos” is a 120-minute feature film divided into 40 episodes, each using up to 4.2 megabytes of capacity. Produced by Globomedia, “Supervillanos” has seen around 300,000 downloads.

Globomedia projects a second series.

In December, Amena announced the eight-micro-episode “Head and Body” to be streamed to users. Co-produced by MTV Networks Intl. and Motorola, “Head and Body” narrates the comic adventures of a person whose head is separated from his body.

Amena also has teamed with Pro TV, the new media production company headed by former RTVE director general Pio Cabanillas. Launching this month, Pro’s “The Globe Icon” is centered on a virtual band that presents content related to music, adventure, science and children.

Global cell phone operator Vodafone, with 12.4 million customers in Spain, offers mobisodes of chillers “Feroces” and “Tercer Territorio,” created by production company Minimo Pro via its film and TV subsid Vodafone Live! Both series, with real-life actors, are based on well-known urban legends and stories about infamous serial killers. The price to download each video is $2.14.

As in other countries, cell phone operators usually look to TV and beyond, rather than to film, for content.

Vodafone has pacted with U.S. studios to distribute their content — “24,” HBO’s “Sex and the City,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Six Feet Under” — in several countries including Spain.

Telefonica’s Movistar, the local cell phone leader with 20 million clients, streams Spanish news channel CNN Plus and highlights from commercial web Antena 3. But it’s concentrating its offerings on vidgames.

What Spain’s nascent mobile TV market is achieving is a large, hip marketing platform for characters and scenarios that can be a big boon for traditional production: Having created Internet teasers, production houses Nikodemo and Abrakan have teamed to produce “Animal Crisis,” a feature film made with Flash technology that makes its easy for mobile phone distribution. Spanish sales company Latido is handling international sales.

“Our aim is to develop formats that are versatile, for all transmission systems and the international market,” says Ignacio Perez Pino, founder of Microgenesis Prods., which produces lifestyle series with north of 400 episodes, plus minimalist series “El pianista relamido.”

Perez Pino says Microgenesis has inked distribution contracts with Australia’s MoMedia and Finland’s Oplayo.

Mobile film — or TV — can only really take off in Spain, however, with the launch of new technical standards.

Like O2 in the U.K., Spain’s big three operators are currently running broadcast trials of Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld (DVB-H) technology, based on digital terrestrial broadcasting standards, teaming with Nokia and infrastructure telco giant Abertis Telecom.

This would substantially enhance network capacity — if spectrum is available. DVB-H still has to be regulated by Spain’s secretary of state for telecommunications.

“We think DVD-H could launch in 2007,” says an Abertis spokesman.

On mobiles, “You’ll get a simulcast of DTT TV channels, plus more specific dedicated content,” he adds.

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