WB mobilizes to distrib cell content

Co. plans to launch site within three to six months

Warner Bros. said Thursday that it will start its own mobile Internet site to distribute TV, video and even films to cell phone users — a move that lessens the company’s reliance on cellular carriers.

Speaking Thursday at the 3GSM World Congress — the world’s largest cellular industry gathering — Justin Richardson, director of wireless business development for Europe, told Daily Variety that Warner plans to launch the mobile site within three to six months.

Warner has been selling through mobile operators, who put bits of content like ringtones and pictures onto their carrier “decks,” or portals as they’re known in Europe. Its most popular sellers have been content related to Looney Tunes and feature films like “Batman.” It plans to continue selling that sort of content through the decks.

But now that technology advances have made it more feasible to offer video, Warner is treating its “longer” content — TV and film — differently. The material still will move over mobile networks, just not always through the operator portals.

The operators typically get about a 50% share of the retail price, which is acceptable to Warner on pure mobile content like ringtones but not good enough for Warner’s traditional film and TV fare, Richardson said.

“If people are going to go to the phone instead of the cinema or DVD, we want to maintain a return on this,” he explained.

Using its own site also gives Warner “the ability to control the editorial environment to a greater extent,” he said.

Move by Warner is a step into what the mobile industry calls “off-portal” distribution of content. As Internet companies like Yahoo! and Google spread to cell phones, off-portal distribution is expected to increase.

“Eventually, we want consumers to be able to search on their own and find Looney Tunes or ‘Batman,’ ” Richardson said. “We don’t want them necessarily to go through an operator.”

Off-portal, also known as “direct to consumer,” was a hot theme at the conference, which ended Thursday and featured a strong mobile-entertainment theme.

Entertainment companies from Disney to Universal Music are exploring or committing to options such as starting their own cellular network (as Disney is doing), allowing users to transfer material from PCs and other gadgets, tapping into wireless Internet connections as phones get Wi-Fi chips, using broadcast airwaves to reach broadcast-equipped phones and sending material by text message.

They are also encouraging advertisers to reach the mobile screen as a way to fund it all.

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