×

Mobile technology lacks cohesion

Video formats can't transfer between devices

Consumers are snapping up millions of video-capable cell phones like the BlackBerry Storm and Apple iPhone – so why isn’t there a robust business in delivering video content to those small screens?

At the 2009 CES, the problems are the same as they were last year and the year before: There’s no single video format that works across all phones and carriers, and no one’s found a reliable way to make money doing it.

Those media companies with some measure of success in this arena rely on lucrative deals with mobile carriers willing to pay up-front licensing fees and guarantee minimum annual revenue. Those deals are becoming rare as more phones gain the ability to pull video directly from the Internet and consumers hunt for a broader range of content than carriers could ever offer.

“I like to say that mobile video is like a crab,” says Frank Barbieri, chief executive of Transpera, a San Francisco-based start-up that works with media companies to deliver video to phones. “It’s hard to crack and it has all these little compartments, but once you get into it, you find all this really sweet meat.”

Popular on Variety

Some media execs at CES have the sense that the audience for video on phones isn’t big enough yet. “The numbers aren’t there,” says Bill Bradford, chief product officer at Fox Digital Media, who also expressed concern that content protection, or digital rights management, isn’t yet strong enough on mobile phones. “It’ll take a few years.”

But working directly with mobile carriers, MTV Networks served up “nearly 100 million video streams in 2008, and that was double the number from the year before,” says Greg Clayman, MTV’s executive vice president of digital distribution. But Clayman acknowledges that carriers want to move away from subscription-based content in favor of more ad-supported content and “there’s no agreed-upon ad formats yet.”

Samir Ahuja, a vice president at QuickPlay Media in Toronto, says his company is experimenting with 5-to 10-second ads in mobile video delivered as pre-roll, post-roll or interstitials. Similarly, Transpera serves up 15-second ads before videos play; the company’s media clients include Disney, Sony Pictures, AccuWeather and CBS.

Most mobile video execs envision a mix of premium and ad-supported content. “Consumers will pay for some content, like live sports, series they get into, and feature films,” says Barbieri. “Music videos and, of course, sexy content, too. But you’ll also see the rise of free, ad-supported content on phones.”

But an ad-supported world has its perils; the phrase “earning digital pennies instead of analog dollars” was tossed around at the Digital Hollywood conference, which runs in tandem with CES. With video on the Web, media companies are vexed that viewers won’t tolerate much advertising, making it hard to earn as much as they do from traditional TV broadcasts. They fear the situation could be worse on mobile phones, where consumers – for now, at least – seem even less tolerant of advertising than they do on a PC.

“What the right model is for mobile video is still T.B.D.,” says Clayman.

More Digital

  • Vudu

    NBCUniversal in Talks to Buy Walmart's Vudu

    Comcast’s NBCUniversal is looking to add some Vudu into its streaming-video mix. The media conglomerate is in talks to buy Vudu, the Walmart-owned entertainment rental, download and free-streaming service, sources confirm to Variety. It’s unclear what the terms of the pact would be or the timing. News of NBCU’s interest in Vudu was first reported [...]

  • Tubi

    Fox in Talks to Acquire Free-Streaming Service Tubi for Over $500 Million (Report)

    Fox Corp. is in discussions about acquiring Tubi, the ad-supported free streaming service, in a deal worth more than $500 million, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing anonymous sources. With Tubi, Rupert Murdoch’s TV broadcasting and cable company would be adding a dedicated streaming component — offering over 20,000 older TV shows and [...]

  • Zombies 2 Disney Channel

    How Disney Channel's 'Zombies 2' Production Team Made Monsters Kid-Friendly

    Traditionally spooky creatures like zombies and werewolves get the Disney treatment in “Zombies 2,” the follow-up to the 2018 hit TV-movie musical of the same name. While the undead have now assimilated into the community of Seabrook, they’re confronted by a new set of outsiders: werewolves. Milo Manheim and Meg Donnelly return as Zed and [...]

  • Baby Yoda - The Child Animatronic

    Hasbro's Adorable Baby Yoda Animatronic Toy Is Already Sold Out on Disney's Online Store

    The Force remains strong for toys based on Baby Yoda, the breakout star of Disney Plus original series “The Mandalorian.” Less than a day after becoming available for pre-order, Hasbro’s new $59.99 Baby Yoda animatronic toy is no longer available on Disney’s official online store: As of Friday morning, Shop Disney listed it as “sold [...]

  • BTS Leads Spotify’s New Music Friday

    BTS Leads Spotify’s New Music Friday Playlist Rebrand

    Spotify has launched a global rebrand of its popular New Music Friday playlist, which this week features BTS, The Weeknd, Noah Cyrus, Trippie Redd, Kenny Chesney, Rei Ami and others. The revamped playlist, which has 43 versions worldwide, has more than 3.5 million followers in the US and eight million globally. New elements include a [...]

  • The Witcher - Netflix

    'The Witcher' Season 2 Production Starts in U.K., Adds Seven to Cast Including 'Game of Thrones' Star Kristofer Hivju

    Production on fantasy epic “The Witcher” Season 2 has commenced in the U.K., with a planned launch in 2021, Netflix announced. The show also announced seven new cast members joining “The Witcher” for S2, including Kristofer Hivju, the Norwegian actor who played the red-bearded wilding leader Tormund Giantsbane on “Game of Thrones.” Netflix last month [...]

  • Disney Plus - Vizio

    Disney Plus Is Now on Vizio Smart TVs in Native App

    Disney Plus is available on Vizio’s SmartCast TV platform as a built-in app, making the Mouse House’s subscription-streaming service accessible directly to users of the manufacturer’s 13 million SmartCast-enabled televisions. Previously, Vizio users have been able to stream Disney Plus on SmartCast TVs through Apple AirPlay 2 and Chromecast. But with the Disney Plus update, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content