Wireless whizzes get show started

Showbiz, tech worlds merge platforms

Those looking for a taste of TV’s future will be coming to Vegas a day early for this year’s National Assn. of Television Program Executives conference.

For the first time, NATPE organizers are organizing a preshow event focused on what many view as the most important technology shaping the broadcast industry outside the TV set: wireless.

Being conducted with the iHollwood Forum, NATPE Mobile Plus will have panels on a number of technology trends but focus primarily on the interaction of cell phones with the broadcast biz, ranging from text messages to marketing to streaming video.

“NATPE is a program conference at heart that’s agnostic to platforms,” explains org prexy Rick Feldman. “But in my discussions with producers, I’ve been getting many questions about the mobile platform, which is why we expanded by a day to focus on it.”

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Mobile has been on the minds of American TV producers more than ever since the launch of “American Idol,” which last season processed 2.5 million votes cast via text messages from cell phones. Since then a number of other networks and shows have jumped on the mobile bandwagon, ranging from ABC daytime fare to Spike’s “Todd TV” to Nickelodeon’s Kids Choice Awards.

But even that’s just a portion of the impact wireless has had on the TV world in Europe, where shows such as “Big Brother” have made viewer involvement via cell phone a phenomenon — and a lucrative one at that.

With text messaging just taking off in the U.S., one of the panels Monday will focus exclusively on that opportunity, particularly the marketing and premium revenue opportunities available from it.

“Text is easier to adopt, has proven applications and is showing even more promise in Europe and Asia,” notes iHollywood CEO Michael Stroud.

Stroud and Feldman note that text can also have use in local markets, where station execs could set up applications involving everything from scheduling to weather to local news.

But while text applications are something attendees can utilize immediately, the confab will devote a panel to video, which techies consider a long-term goal.

While a few applications for TV on cell phones have emerged, they have yet to take off in the U.S. beyond hard-core techies. Fox has started a one-minute wireless show based on “24,” and startup MobiTV puts clips from networks such as Discovery and ABC News on phones.

“Video’s a big question mark,” admits Stroud, “but it’s an area people are excited about. I think consumers will be interested in watching short clips of everything from cartoons to sports on their mobile devices.”

Overall, the extra day at NATPE will be devoted to analyzing wireless as part of the development of ancillary revenue streams for TV networks. That’s why the first panel of the day will focus on ways to make money with applications ranging from games to wallpaper to graphics. Later in the afternoon, another panel will compare ancillary revenue from markets, including wireless, interactive TV, vidgames and DVD.

“This is more exciting even than high def,” Feldman says, comparing mobile to the other tech development getting TV execs’ attention. “There’s more innovation in figuring out how to extend your business and content to this little screen than deciding what is so fantastic that you need to see it in HD.”

Organizers are hoping to draw around 200 attendees to NATPE Mobile Plus. Speakers include execs from networks, mobile carriers and tech companies.

Keynote address will be given by Lucy Hood, News Corp. senior VP for content, who will present an “American Idol” case study and talk about future mobile strategies.