Frustrated by the expense of acquiring content that’s suitable for a 2-inch screen and inexpensive enough to support their business models, many wireless programming providers are taking production matters into their own hands.
“We are the largest made-for-mobile studio anywhere,” says David Bluhm, chairman-CEO of GoTV Networks, which provides mobile TV programming to the major U.S. wireless carriers, much of which it produces out of its 2-year-old Sherman Oaks, Calif., studio.
Of the company’s nearly 100 full-time staffers, about 70 have film and TV backgrounds. Many other part-time production personnel also work regularly for the 40,000-square-foot studio, which is under the direction of veteran TV exec Daniel Tibbets.
Out of this studio, GoTV produces about 300 discrete short-form programs a month, many of which are made for its popular music news- and video-themed mobile channels, Hip Hop Official and Altitude.
Many other types of programs are also produced at this studio, such as sports-oriented shorts for V-Cast Sports, a channel GoTV provides exclusively to Verizon.
GoTV isn’t alone in this endeavor — late last year, Sprint opened its own 10,000-square-foot mobile TV studio in Manhattan, a few blocks away from Madison Square Garden, in partnership with sports agency IMG.
Investing what Sprint officials describe as “several million dollars,” the studio produces about 150 hours of programming a week — mostly news- and sports-oriented programming, all made free to wireless customers who subscribe to Sprint’s unlimited data access plan.
In a business where consumer loyalty often doesn’t extend past the expiration of a wireless contract, such content is vital to carriers wishing to establish their networks as more than mere commodities.
“Our goal is to be the No. 1 mobile entertainment destination,” Alana Muller, director of wireless data marketing for Sprint, recently told Forbes. “If we can encourage some sort of (multimedia) use every day, people will stay.”
While mobile TV studios are providing an increasing number of behind-the-scenes film and TV pros with steady paychecks, they are not yet meccas for big-name on-air stars.
According to Bluhm, GoTV has fielded numerous feelers from top-shelf music and TV talent recently, but there’s often a disconnect in the wages these folks are used to and what the nascent mobile content market will support at this point.
“They haven’t been easy to deal with on the financial side,” Bluhm notes.
The mobile stars of tomorrow
While deals with established talent have been hard to come by, Bluhm believes several of GoTV’s on-air hosts have the potential to become “the first mobile stars.”
He points to Daylan Williams, the main host on one of GoTV’s most popular channels, Hip Hop Official, as possibly having that kind of juice.
He also says Altitude host Melissa Teper “reminds me of Martha Quinn way back in the early days of MTV.”
Already, GoTV has plenty of interaction with the local tenpercentaries, who are keen to gain exposure for their stables of young talent.
“We work with every agency,” he notes. “They bring us fully baked packages, and we’ve had some great talent offered to us. And they understand that any deals that come about will mostly involve revenue-sharing right now.”
Besides providing GoTV with the ability to better control content acquisition costs, having an inhouse studio lets the company create programming that better fits the mobile medium.
“The first thought is, these are small TVs — but they aren’t,” Bluhm says. “The mobile platform is a whole different animal. The story arcs have to be shorter, because people don’t know how long they have before a call comes in or their bus comes.”
Meanwhile, the video and sound limitations require specialized production skill sets.
For its sports packages, for example, GoTV producers know exactly what kinds of highlights work.
“You can’t show something like a tee shot in golf,” he notes. “These phones are getting better, but let’s be realistic — you’d never see the ball.”