Phones make fine fit for news

Congloms crafting mobile news products

For news junkies, the coming crunch of mobile phone content is, well, old news.

“(News) has been able to move (to the mobile platform) faster than the entertainment world,” says NBC U Digital Media veep Salil Dalvi, noting the natural affinity news has for the mobile medium.

While NBC only recently started experimenting with mobile entertainment — making available Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” monologues to wireless users in December, for example — the web has been dishing news component to phone users since 2004.

The tradional TV news hour may be having trouble fitting in amid modern commuter traffic and audience dispersion. But a funny thing has happened on the way to obsolescence — news fits a mobile market demanding informative shortform content quite well.

Cases in point: The death of Pope John Paul II, the Michael Jackson trial verdict and Hurricane Katrina — all of which provided network mobile services with a huge jump. “Our usage doubled during the hurricane,” Dalvi says.

“People want to get content that’s relevant to them and timely, as well as consistently refreshed,” he adds. “Consumers are not necessarily going to want to tune in when we give it to them. They want it whenever and wherever they can.”

And around the dial, rival congloms have crafted mobile news products, as well: CBS recently announced plans for CBS News to Go and ET to Go, which will focus on breaking news and entertainment headlines, respectively. CNN has CNN Video to Go and CNN News to Go. The Alphabet offers up its ABC News Now broadband video channel, as well as ABC News On-Demand, in cell phone. Fox News Channel’s live feed is available for phones.

And cable sports news titan ESPN just launched the mobile virtual network ESPN Mobile over Sprint’s backbone.

“From dozens of rounds of focus groups with avid sports fans, what we learned was that the top things people are looking is real time info — scores and alerts,” notes ESPN mobile topper Manish Jha.

Rights issues present a key reason why webs choose news when it comes to mobile — repurposing news for the mobile platform involves no tedious examination of guild contracts, Dalvi points out.

“When the rubber met the road, we moved faster on news at NBC Universal because the rights issues are much more obvious in news than in entertainment,” he says. “Everyone’s trying to figure out how these rights issues work.”

And besides inherent advantages in terms of guild royalties, crafting news for the mobile platform perhaps involves a bit less imagination on the part of programmers. Indeed, adapting the rather straight-forward presentation of news, sports and weather to this new platform is an easier proposition than re-imagining entertainment properties for a medium with much smaller screen sizes and attention spans.

“We’ll never be successful until we think of this as a new medium,” CBS Mobile veep Cyriac Roeding told Variety in a February interview. “No one would think of putting a newspaper on television. Why would you just put television on a cell phone?”

Of course as TV programmers learn to better adapt their entertainment content to the mobile market — and the phones and networks become more advanced — mobile news will evolve, too.

Dalvi says he’d like to see the news space become more interactive, as legions of phone users with video capability could turn that footage into more news. “How do you tap into the audience to contribute more to overall storytelling experience?” he asks. “Every phone capable of delivering video is also capable of capturing video. During the London bombings, a lot of photography was generated by user cell phones. How do you create a community around that usage? That’s one of the areas that tops my mind.”

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