You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

H’wood comes calling on mobiles

$50 bil payoff lures biz to cellphone confab

BARCELONA — What do you get when two powerful industries that are used to calling their own shots but are unfamiliar with each other try to chase $50 billion together? 

According to the chief creative officer of reality TV trendsetter and “Big Brother” creators Endemol: A prickly crossbreeding rodent.

And yet that’s what the entertainment biz and mobile carriers are attempting.

“When you make love with a porcupine, you approach things cautiously,” Endemol’s Peter Bazalgette said last week. He was speaking at the mobile industry’s biggest annual conclave, the 3GSM World Congress running Feb. 13-16, where the mobile entertainment theme took centerstage among the 50,000 showgoers. Speaker after speaker referred to the $50 billion that mobile entertainment could generate by 2010, if only the studios and carriers could figure out how to share it.

Clearly, the entertainment biz wants to get the mobile show going. Hollywood, TV and the record labels came here in droves to let the world know that they want to entertain people on the ubiquitous cellphone, of which there are roughly 2 billion in the world, growing to 3 billion in a few years time, according to estimates.

Execs from Disney, Warner Bros., Fox, Endemol, MTV, “Idol” producers Fremantle,  Rupert Murdoch’s Brit satcaster BSkyB, Sony BMG, Universal Music and EMI Music all came here to spread their mobile message.

But the big question is exactly how the cellular carriers will work together and share the $50 billion pie with Hollywood et al.

As Gary Carter, chief creative officer at Fremantle put it,  “I’m not always sure we have the language to understand each other.”

One thing cell carriers and content providers do understand, though, is that each side brings a swagger that doesn’t always go down so well with the other. Mobile operators are, after all, dealing from strength. They own about 2 billion cellphone customers around the world, which is roughly double the number of TV households on the planet.

With that kind of clout, “some of them have a slight whiff of Hollywood about them,” Bazalgette told Variety.During one mobile media panel session, Graeme Ferguson, who heads global content for U.K.-based Vodafone — the second-largest operator in the world and partners in the U.S. in Verizon — shot back that the big media companies “are an equally arrogant batch.” He faulted them with having taken too long to come to the mobile table.

A number of issues were eating entertainment companies. Among them: they’re not always happy with the 40%-to-60% revenue share they get when they sell through an operator’s “portal” or “deck” — prepackaged services such as Verizon’s Vcast and Vodafonelive.

For TV makers accustomed to selling programming at a markup to broadcasters, the revenue-sharing approach is unfamiliar and can make them queasy. They often say consumers have trouble understanding confusing and expensive carrier pricing. TV execs were calling last week for advertisers to join the mobile TV race to help lower the price to consumers.

Some complain carriers can make it difficult for consumers to find content by giving it a bottom-shelf position in the portal, and that portal services are hard to use.

“Some of the operators are challenged in their ability to run their own portals,” says Attila Gazdag, European managing director for Walt Disney Internet Group.

Others say carriers don’t do enough to market individual programs, don’t share enough information about user trends, don’t tailor their handsets enough to enhance the creative possibilities of the phone. 

“The real prize for the mobile is to treat it as a medium in its own right,” Bazalgette says.

Endemol has created a mobile division dedicated to making shows only for the cellphone, including a series called “Extreme Reality.”

Although mobile operators have a grip on the cellular customer base, media companies made clear at 3GSM that they are also finding other ways to get their songs and shows onto cellphones. As mobile Internet browsing improves, and as Internet companies like Google and Yahoo! start making it easier to find things outside operator portals, some of them plan to build their own mobile sites.

Warner Bros. will launch such a site within the next six months, says Justin Richardson, the company’s London-based director of European business development for wireless. The move coincides with plans to make available material from Warner TV offerings, and in some cases, to even offer full-length films to the mobile user.

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

By putting the material on its own site, Warner also gains “the ability to control the editorial environment to a greater extent,” he says.

There are many other routes around operator portals. Some like Disney, are launching their own mobile networks.

And outside the U.S., media companies are distributing material via text messaging using “short codes” advertised on TV and magazines. That method has been popular for games and ringtones, but is expected to play a role in music and video as well.

“It’s about distribution choice,” says Ted Cohen, senior veep for EMI Music. “If it’s through an operator portal, great, but if it’s from the back of a magazine, that’s great too.”

Media companies are also closely watching the emergence of broadcast technologies that will allow them to transmit programs to phones over broadcast airwaves rather than mobile networks.”We’re all trying to stake our claims,” says Sanjiv Ahuja, the boss of pan-European cellular carrier Orange, which is part of France Telecom. “May the best player win.”

More TV

  • ABBY'S -- "Pilot" Episode 101 --

    TV Review: 'Abby's' Starring Natalie Morales

    “Abby’s,” NBC’s new comedy about a cranky bartender (Natalie Morales) and her inner circle of regulars, is aware of the inevitable “Cheers” comparisons. Created by “New Girl” writer Josh Malmuth and executive produced by uber-producer (and unabashed “Cheers” superfan) Mike Schur, “Abby’s” therefore makes a few key choices in order to differentiate itself as its [...]

  • Ryan Murphy Walk of Fame

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Sets Premiere Date for Ryan Murphy's 'The Politician'

    In today’s roundup, Netflix announces the premiere date for Ryan Murphy’s “The Politician” series, and Kristin Cavallari will host “Paradise Hotel” on Fox.  DATES Reality star Kristin Cavallari will host Fox’s reboot of “Paradise Hotel,” an unscripted dating show in which a group of singles will check into a tropical resort and compete to check [...]

  • 'Selling Sunset': Producer Behind Netflix's First

    'Selling Sunset': Producer Behind Netflix's First Docusoap on the State of Reality TV

    Netflix crossed another unscripted threshold on Friday with the launch of “Selling Sunset,” an 8-episode series that follows a group of real estate agents on the Sunset Strip. The show is believed to be the streaming service’s first docusoap, the now-ubiquitous format first popularized in the early 2000s by shows like MTV’s “Laguna Beach” and [...]

  • Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018

    Discovery CEO David Zaslav Sees 2018 Compensation Soar to $129.4 Million

    Discovery Inc. president-CEO David Zaslav is once again making headlines for an enormous compensation package. Zaslav’s 2018 compensation soared to $129.44 million in 2018, fueled by stock options and grants awarded as the longtime Discovery chief signed a new employment contract last July that takes him through 2023 at the cable programming group. Zaslav received [...]

  • 'Supernatural' to End After Season 15

    'Supernatural' to End After Season 15 on The CW

    “Supernatural” is ending after 15 seasons. Series stars Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, and Misha Collins made the announcement in a video posted on Instagram on Friday. “We just told the crew that even though we’re very excited to be moving into our 15th season, it will be our last,” Ackles said. “15 years of a [...]

  • Gayle King Power of Women 2017

    CBS News, Gayle King Close to Terms for New 'CBS This Morning' Contract

    Gayle King is likely to stay a morning person. The popular anchor, who has enjoyed a steady stream of big-interview “gets” in recent weeks, is moving closer to signing a new deal to stay at CBS News and “CBS This Morning,” according to two people familiar with the matter. The talks are still in flux, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content