Apr 162006

New God Mobile ©Gary HayesI had a minor eureka moment at Milia, suddenly the new mobile kid on the block was exposed, naked with all the acne and teenage angst that every immature platform goes through – clear for all to see. I gave the mobile, or rather the content that us humans have so far designed for it, the benefit of the doubt for many sessions at Milia. On our portable new toy these sessions ranged from specific business models for mobile, purportedly innovative content pitches, showcases of the best content and endless references in keynote sessions to this revolutionary platform. On the exhibition floor we had the likes of Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and Orange showing off the latest toys for boys. Then of course we had the commercial food fight sessions that goes on with new platforms – as the very clever Mark Halper said in his introduction to Mobi Wars session…

“a 42 billion dollar market by 2010…putting aside the sad anthropological fact that this turns our species into one born with gadgets in our hands, the question becomes who will make money? Mobile entertainment as the phrase plainly tells us joins together two powerful industries accustomed to calling their own shots. Entertainment and mobile. Think Murdock, think Vodaphone. Now get them chasing 42 billion dollars together and they start to look at each other kinda funny. To summarise it both want 70%. This may be new media but it’s not new math. “

Regardless of the fact that some services started on mobile and then went to TV/PC, my sense of disbelief finally broke at the Content 360° Pitching Session: Total Mobile & User Generated Mobile Content. I suddenly came to realize that regardless of the endless “made just for mobile” or “unique world first experience” mantra that permeated most of the presenters talks, 95% of the content experience was in fact not very good, poor. Poor, to the extent that all the formats were borrowed directly from daddy TV or their older sister ‘broadband. PC’ unchanged. In these early days, run by marketers after early big buck and brand positioning and NOT true creatives the quality of services we must expect will indeed be copycat and souless. So some of my ‘exposed’ services include:

  1. The TV Reformatters. VJ Search from Chum TV (who sell programmes to 130 countries worldwide) for example. Reality shows ‘as TV’ but on your phone. ’10 finalists fight it out…’ you get the idea. To be fair there were tens of you vote for this then that type services – proud that they are really using the communication capability of the phone but most proud that things are actually working! That is obviously a major factor – before we get creative, lets make sure we get real – and it is so easy to copy existing formats.
  2. The Straight Reversioners. Vodaphone talking about their ‘variety packs’ of mobile TV channels “its about content not channels”. TV straight onto the phone. Full length movies, Eurosport simulcasts, 24 mobisodes etc: Vodaphone Germany have over 30 TV channels and on and on. Several of the network presenters reminded me forcibly of BskyB in the early days ‘its new, lots of choice, delivered in a new way…’ and more marketing hype but it is still TV as you already know it Jim.
  3. The Same Olds. There is nothing new under the sun as I saw the upteenth CDROM-type service reversioned for the mobile phone, yet being praised for it’s innovative idea. There was the alphabet learning game, or the recipe book online or how about navigating through short video clips.
  4. The Wannabees. There were several ‘virtual’ so and so type services and quite a few ‘mobile episode’ services (one day someone should join those two words up and charge people for using it ๐Ÿ˜‰ . For example “PS I Love You” from MediaCorp– very culturally targeted, aimed at an innocent, teenage Asian audience. The thing that struck me with this and many others with this and a couple of similar services was the middling production value but poor script, direction and little edutainment value (cutting corners abounds).
  5. The PC on your Mobile’rs. Several projects talked about UGC and mobile. How mobiles are story tools extraordinary? They are but in the wrong hands things can go horribly wrong. Several pitches and commercial services struck me as straight lifts from PC. Time Capsule, effectively video nation on your mobile, or an endless range of send in your ‘audition’ clip for a range of be a celeb services – your 15 seconds of fame in many cases.

There was hardly any content that drew gasps of approval from the audience. Several examples produced laughter though – for the wrong reasons.

Now I am sounding terribly old school here are some of my favourites. They are still only 60% there but at least they feel they are in the right direction.

  1. Paul Bennun, Somethin’ Elses – a user generated TV programme. Basically passionate viewer comments about a range of topics compiled for peer review but presented in a more unique way, without the feeling that this was PC reformat. There was an observational quiz programme, although nothing new, used the audio strengths of the mobile to a great extent and the video just supported that and posed questions that often required a second playing – keep the money rolling in guys!
  2. Pieto Bezza from Neo networks in Italy showed a half-game, half drama service called Video Partner. It premiered in March 2003 on 3 in Italy now on Orange in Israel. You effectively navigate through a range of short clips (after an mms, push, call to action) to either woo a man or woman (non-porn, aimed at Italian adolescents) – learn how to be nice to the opposite sex, kind of thing, in the privacy of your own hand. Pieto called it a video adventure (copyright the expression now Pieto!) Who could you play with (as a man) “we have Sarah, a dancer, or she wants to be. Then we have Julia, the next door, innocent, pretend to be innocent, student. Then we have Rebakka, a sensual foreigner…” Quite a complex hierarchy, you choose an option from a multi-choice at the end of each video clip – “what should you say to her after a failed dance audition for example’…although the production value was low there was something game-like about it that almost worked.
  3. I would have liked to have seen more personalized, targeted services. Ones that know you, give you a unique experience (in the context of this blog) – but none spring to mind, in fact there just weren’t any – and that was sad. Still years away from those heavily personalized mobile experiences, perhaps it is time to move some of my ideas into the market ๐Ÿ˜‰
  4. Judy Gladstone from Bravo!Fact in Canada showed some very personal and poingnant cell phone video shorts that they commissioned as part of ChumTV shorts. Here the audio and textual overlay played a significant role – a multi-dimensionalism was created vs a flat reversion relying heavily on video only. She talked in two sessions about cliff-hangers and the cross-media implications of this – but there is a fine line, it felt good from the personal story aspect but I kept flicking into this is self indulgent new media arts/poor UGC mode too.

DMB at Milia ©Gary HayesThere were very few services that used the locative capability of the phone combined with DMB (left image) but ‘our friends’ from Tasmania had some great ideas, which is why they won the pitches I believe – what is it about Tasmania – perhaps the distance from the market gives them big picture advantage, over to you Mr. Gurney! Mip/Milia was mass market stuff after all and it is very easy for academics and experimental labs to point the finger (dear me that is what I have just done!). Across 3G point-to-point, broadcast and synch mobile services there is such a long, long road ahead. Then there is media and hardware convergence. I say media convergence, which was used in the wrong context several times, but from a perspective of mobile media convergence…as a successful new format comes along it will be duplicated from many carriers and providers around the world, bandwagon convergence.
I know from personal launch experience that early ‘mass audience’ launches does require lowest common denominator thinking, reduce the risk by reducing the number of variables that can go wrong. Add to that pure greed, yes lets be clear on that one, and you have a recipe for mediocrity. (As a tangent I thought it hilarious that there was serious discussion about Fox asking for a fee on their earlier trademark of the term “Mobisode” – several presenters were a little concerned about using the term in public as the royalty amount was not yet made public – greed indeed, shame on you Fox.)

Back to the mantra, it doesn’t matter that it was “made just for mobile”, well in fact it does because to be honest the production value and conceptual depth made most of it look like a series of cheap pilots that TV companies would turn down in a second – so it could therefore ONLY be made for mobile. It also reminded me that, back to my opening statement as an adolescent platform, in the commercial world at least mobile has no true identity and it heavily borrows from its older media family – one day it will leave the nest and stand-alone. I expect I will be part of that evo, sorry revolution.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

Apr 082006

Of the nineteen, yes 19, presentations I attended at this years Milia my favourite must have been the Mobility and Content: Entertainment Everywhere! Held in the Esterel on Thursday morning – this panel seemed to cover all the main emerging media issues with ease, not tied down to a specific theme they handled the revolution without resorting to too much retrospect. The other two panels in this area, MobiWars and Developing Cross-Platform content I refer to briefly below.

Mobility and Content was excellently set-up and moderated (in a flowing vs sequential way) by Jessica Sandin (Fathom Partners) and the particular combination of Patrick Walker (Google), Ilkka Raiskinen (Nokia), Paul Bennun (Somethin’ Else) and Gerard Grech (France Telecom) had most bases covered – content, search, telcos and mobile.

It didn’t get too toys-for-boys, gadget talk and I include a few quotes from the presenters from my audio notes.

Jessica Sandin 190 million broadband connections,

“Apple has fuelled the awareness of portable digital content…look at the figures in some more detail 42 million iPods by January,2006 1 billion songs via iTunes…23 songs per device, maybe iTunes not as big as we think…3 million video capable iPods equates to around 5 videos per device…but Apple has created an awareness about portable digital content….Looking at the whole mobile industry, mobile phones 2 billion, 42 million iPods, 50 million PSP’s not all are multimedia enabled – only around 4% are 3G…the jury is still out on how successful mobile entertainment will be.”

Has convergence happened or is it hype?

Paul Bennun ©Gary HayesPaul Bennun “The last time I came to Cannes I came to Milia. This it is MipTV featuring Milia so if you believe in the genius of the market convergence has happened”

Patrick Walker (after polling the audience) “Its definitely happening and it has been happening for a long time. We are all here representing companies that are reactive and proactive in serving consumer needs and they are demanding it, an exciting space to be in…the difference between then and now is that we are entering what I would call the perfect storm, bandwidth is increasing, the cost of bandwidth and devices are decreasing and the rights holders are being more flexible about delivering across platforms…”

There was a significant amount of obligatory discussion about reformatting and relevance to cross media devices and their strengths. This included talk about length of linear content, the associated ads and how many different versions you need to make. Ilkka from Nokia chirped in”

“I echo what is said early but will add some more data points. We have been running mobile TV pilots globally now and have received final results from four of the pilots, Spain, Finland, UK and France. Whats interesting is that the average viewing time is pretty stable at around 20 plus minutes per day…so as a content provider you need to optimise your portfolio to that experience. Also interesting is that it adds to the consumption patterns. Typically on TV you have the morning and evening TV peak and the mobile ad opportunities in-between to take advantage of that and it puts pressure on your content and services…”

Gerard Grech (France Telecom) “Talking about different formats for different devices a good example is when we did a recent sports event. We had HiDef MP4 on IPTV, then on PC with windows media and we had it streamed on packet video on mobile phones. The experience was different given the device that the consumer was accessing the content. On IPTV we had a very interesting mosaic with different camera angles, on mobile we had the highlights because we knew people were snacking and wanted to know what the score was and on PC it was between the two, people like to browse, read what other people have been saying about the game more community features…your formatting the content and what you wrap around the content to different devices and that is something you need to think about…if you propose something to an operator like us…think about what you offer but what else you offer in addition to that”

Then things got a little more interesting when distribution rights appeared in the discussion: a panellist came out with the standard “content once its created wants to go everywhere” Paul Bennun replied:

“over reliance on DRM is creating customer confusion, it means I can get it on this device and not that device, at this price point here and this one there…it is massively confusing, its massively restrictive and it is stunting the market, the way DRM is currently being deployed does not work.”

The metaphor of boats sailing by – that we are locking down content too restrictively and consumers are looking elsewhere turned into these being pirate boats and un-controlled super distribution. All panellists agreed that some content should be given away free, now particularly advertising full content. Illkka lightened the discussion with an exercise in definitions

“…different platforms with different rules. This is not a sustainable situation. I have been discussing with several people, what is this device (holding a Nokia N92, mobile TV, phone) is this a mobile phone or a mobile TV and then depending on what we decide there will be different rules….in different countries, different rules, historically we have attached rules to different distribution mechanisms…that whole paradigm is changing, consumers do not believe they are buying the content for the platform, they believe they are buying it for themselves. If that angle is not part of the discussion in how we solve this then we are creating a kind of priest-like ‘ohh this is a mobile tv, this is a phone’ it is going to be really really stupid”

The discussion moved via Google into people power, consumers driving prices and user generated content. Consumers will create stuff they want if we, the media, do not, because they can now. Google said their role is to simply facilitate this, suggesting I felt with or without the so-called professional media makers.

I asked a question about a converged device and what might be a common format device in the future, a communications device that acts as your mobile PVR with a few hundred GB of storage and can dock to larger screens, all your personal, vlog, feature film and TV content (they/we want content they own in their/our hand) – used my old iPod content-to-go model combined with mobile phone…Patrick from Google replied

patrick walker ©Gary Hayes “I would love one of those. You made a really important point when you talk about portability, mobility, you said dock it to the TV right. How many people have an iPod and have docked it to their stereo to get a higher fidelity sound at home or in a hotel? (All audience raise hands) See. You have really got to think about portability in terms of circumstance…storage devices are getting much less expensive. The storage for the PSP was more expensive than the device originally, that will change, the ability to store and take as long as the device has upgradable memory”

Illkka then did a sales act on me and said they have a dockable TV device using ORB to share and move content around via WiFi. Very cheap. Paul then pointed out the fact that automatically you can use RSS to capture content via bit torrent that will sync to your iPod completely illegally and many people are doing this already. Circumvents all business models being discussed in other panels. The boats are again leaving…the discussion went on in a lively way referring to mash-ups and the value of UGC etc:

Another panel in a similar domain was Mobiwars – content owners through to telcos and mobile virtual network operators…Mark Halper a Freelance Journalist had a few interesting opening tips and moderated a difficult panel very effectively. This one was how content producers can get money without going through a mobile operator portal:

1 – Distributing via text message, direct download
2 – Your own mobile portal – delivered via a mobile friendly website
3 – MVNO, mobile virtual network operator, rent mobile capacity to sell your content
4 – Rent wholesale access to networks – sell content at a fixed fee (not traffic fee)
5 – Transferring content via PC to phone
6 – WiFi signals,
7 – Using broadcast signals to get content to handsets
8 – Advertising sponsored content, without or within the operator portal

Overall the mobile TV, VOD panels suggested there is a great deal of confusion in the market highlighted by Ilkka from Nokia who said old distribution business models are being broken down and consumers are circumventing these in the market. What fun it is in the grey zone of media transition ๐Ÿ˜‰

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006