Market Preview: Milia

A cell phone with an HD screen that tricks your brain into thinking it’s watching a 48-inch letterbox plasma TV. Cell phones with rollout screens. A broadcast network devoted entirely to mobile programming.

These technologies and others have already hit the streets, or will soon, in Europe and Asia. But in America, they may as well be science fiction.

As Milia (the new-media component of Mip) begins, the U.S. continues to lag in implementing new cellular and digital technologies. And while there are signs that gap may be closing, it’s done little to shed the impression that this is a nation of Luddites.

The reasons for this technological jet lag are both cultural and practical.

For one, emerging markets that have no ingrained infrastructure in place (and fewer compatibility issues between companies) have an advantage, explains Rainbow Media senior VP Glenn Oakley.

“They have no legacy problems to deal with, and this new technology is available to everyone now,” Oakley says. “So those territories that may seem to be the most backward can immediately catch up. All they have to do is plug in inexpensive hi-def TV sets and they immediately have state-of-the-art technology.

“What they use as a competitive advantage is high def, certainly on the DBS (direct broadcast satellite) side. So it’s a very rapid way to get into a consumer’s home with the very best that TV has to offer.”

Martin Blakstad, Granada’s head of new media, adds that Asian consumers are far ahead of the U.S. in mobile technology, with countries such as Korea boasting a “full network of broadcast

television” available on mobile.

“As a culture, they are much more willing to try things out over there than we are,” Blakstad says. “If I want to know what’s going to happen next, I look at Asia — then six to 12 months out, it will start appearing in Europe.”

For traditional distributors and content providers, technology has to be monetized.

“So the issue of ad delivery also has to be addressed,” Blakstad says. “There really are no proper business models yet nor enough ads to fill the services. There needs to be recognition by the ad-serving community that they need to move much quicker into the video era.”

There is one glaring technological bright spot for the U.S.: hi-def.

Voom HD Networks general manager Greg Moyer observes that U.S. prominence in hi-def is a direct result of national policy.

“The switch from analog to digital was premised on providing additional spectrum to broadcasters,” Moyer says. “Because we had this regulatory framework that was pushing the technology, pushing the transition to digital, that has given us the head start.”

Moyer notes that the policy push compensated for the lack of economic incentive (in the form of ad revenue) for programmers to convert to HD.

Hi-def “has become an unexpected hot ticket internationally,” adds Ellis Entertainment prexy-CEO Stephen Ellis.

“Even in Europe,” he says, “where there is not much consumer demand for HD, at the broadcast level everyone we are dealing with is saying, ‘Please deliver us an HD master as well.’ “

At Mip and beyond HD is likely to be a factor in the dollars that are exchanging hands in programming.

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