Monthly Archives: February 2008

Can Actimagine Energize Mobile Video?

Power consumption is one of the bugaboos of video on the mobile platform. Video sucks up power, and batteries for mobile platforms have real limits. That’s a conundrum that Actimagine, a French company, says it has solved.

Actimagine’s patented video codec, Mobiclip, offers VGA resolution at 30 fps…for 7.5 hours on a Nokia N73. That’s an estimated four times longer than MPEG4’s 90 minute duration and eight times more than H.264. Mobiclip is compatible with all open operating systems, including Windows Mobile, Linux, Symbian, Brew and Palm OS.

How do they do it? Henri Linde, Actimagine’s president, Americas, defines it simply. “I describe it as changing all the multiplication and division to addition and subtraction,” he said. “That means that because the algorithm’s built on simpler actions, it uses substantially less power.” Mobiclip files are smaller; MPEG4 files need to be 30 per cent bigger for the same picture and sound quality and so consume more memory on a mobile device.

Up until now, in the U.S., Actimagine, which was founded in Paris in 2003, has provided power consumption for Game Boys and Fisher Price toys. In Europe, however, Actimagine has been making inroads into video for the mobile platform, via promotions for Nokia’s N series phones. Nokia offers a DVD-quality film, stored on an Acimagine miniSD card, as an incentive to buy the phone. The user simply inserts the card into the phone and clicks on an icon to play the movie. Paramount and Sony have participated, with movies including “The Da Vinci Code” and “Casino Royale.”

In May, Nokia, Studio Canal and The Phone House offered a 1-GB Acimagine miniSD card of a popular French movie, “Prête-moi ta main,” for 1 Euro, for those purchasing a new Nokia N73 (and later the Nokia N95 and N76). Successful marketing of the handset included an emphasis that buyers would be able to watch the entire full-screen movie without recharging their batteries and, since the film uses only 350 MB, they’d have 650 MB of free memory on which to store photos, music and videos.

That model sounds compelling enough for the U.S. market, but Actimagine has a bigger plan. “We’re going to offer the full backbone to deliver video,” says Linde. “We don’t just want to be a video codec provider, but also offer transaction management, content management and DRM.” Video will live on a server, which Actimagine will download to users’ PCs. The codec player will download with the video content or be embedded in the handset.

The Motorola Media Monster Z8 will have an embedded Mobiclip player and will come with a miniSD card with “The Bourne Identity.” “With Nokia, the player is on the miniSD cards,” says Linde. “With the Motorola, the player is actually in the phone.” Linde also notes that, with the Nokia N series video-out plug, Actimagine provides a cable to play the cell phone content on the TV receiver. At QVGA resolution, a movie won’t look great on your 42-inch plasma, but the basic concept is right on. “You can buy or rent movies on your cell phone and then watch it at night on your hotel TV,” explains Linde.

For now, the download model will continue to develop, says Linde, who also notes that the company is going to carriers with an offer for streaming. The company, which will get a second round of funding this fall from GRP Partners investment fund, is currently in discussion with numerous major content owners.

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Cablecasters Plan Mobile Strategies

Can cable go mobile? The short answer is…they already have. Discovery Networks, HBO, and MTV are a few of the networks that have already made bold forays into mobile programming.

But these are early days, and cable ops and cable networks alike are seeking ways to add on a mobile strategy without a major misstep. On the programming side, that means figuring out whether to repurpose existing material and/or produce original programming, each choice creating its own pitfalls.

At Discovery Network, they’ve created three strategies for moving content to the small screen. The third possibility, explained EVP/GM of emerging networks Clint Stinchcomb at the NCTA Mobile Bootcamp, is pre-purposing. “We identify short-form elements we want from the crew that’s shooting the cable TV show,” he said. “This is a “pre-source” way to source mobile content, and our current methodology for “Deadliest Catch,” one of the network’s most popular shows.”

For cable networks, the ability to repurpose content and/or use the mobile platform as an extension of brand has proven irresistible. MTV, for example, has used the mobile platform to extend the reach of reality series including “Laguna Beach,” “Real World: Denver” and “Run’s House” [See Q&A with Bunim Murray’s Mark Radounis].

Cable operators have a much tougher job ahead of them, having to figure out the “how-to” of creating a new distribution pipeline. Even more germane, perhaps, is figuring out how to monetize mobile. Mobile advertising is still evolving, and the business model of mix of models, whether it’s the 3-second spot, billboards, sponsorships or interactive triggers, remains to be seen.

“The magic of the mobile device is that it’s the absolute ultimate in convenience,” said Stinchcomb, who also spoke about repurposing existing content and made-for-mobile productions. “The options are limitless.”

Content creators and distributors stressed that these are early days for video over mobile, but that opportunities are intriguing. “We believe in the future of mobile video, but we’re still playing,” said Bernard Gershon, SVP/GM, ABC News Digital Media Group.

The how-to of mobile was also well represented. Dan Novak, VP, programming and advertising, for MediFLO USA, an end-to-end solution to deliver linear live TV to the phone, spoke about how after launching in March with Verizon Wireless their service is available in 28 markets, delivering NBC, CBS, ESPN, MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Fox. “We’ll be able to do a lot of interactive things that cable is working towards,” promised Novak, pinpointing one of the areas of overlap between cable and mobile platforms.

Novak later reported that people who have video-enabled cell phones are watching for an average of 30 minutes a day. “When you put the right content out there, it becomes embedded in their lives,” he said. “We don’t think of this as a niche opportunity—it is a huge opportunity.”

New platforms not only bring up questions of aesthetics but also of rights and other legal issues. Two attorneys were on hand to bring up the issues that producers need to look at before they roll camera. That included who owns pre-existing content, rights clearances and Guild contracts. “I’m the guy that, an hour before Steve Jobs and Bob Iger shake hands, I have to make it work,” said Michael Pusateri, SVP of technology at Disney-ABC Television Group. “You can’t just buy software. You’re launching a new business, with legal rights, FCC issues, security concerns and technology issues.”

Advertising is part of the puzzle that has not yet been resolved: what kind of ad models will work, or not work, for the mobile platform? “Mobile advertising is still a fragmented ecosystem,” said Nagraj Kashyap, director of North American operations for Qualcomm Ventures. “And wireless carriers are moving slowly to formalize an advertising strategy.”

An interesting end to Mobile Bootcamp came when moderator Scott Wills, who is president/COO of HiWire, debunked four myths about what consumers want from mobile TV. In these early days, it may be just as possible to come up with metrics that prove the opposite, but his myth-busters are interesting fodder for continuing conversation.

Myth #1: Mobile TV will be watched by people standing in line.
Reality: Two-thirds watch it in the home or office

Myth #2: Low data and frame rates are acceptable, but consumers won’t like the small screen.
Reality: Three-quarter of subscribers to video-enabled phones complain and video quality and network performance. Only 6 percent don’t like the screen size.

Myth #3: Consumers only want short-form programming.
Reality: 86 percent want programming of 10 minutes or more.

Myth #4: Unicast networks can meet consumer demands.
Reality: It is not an on-going profitable scaling business. Cable will need to power many devices and provide services on existing devices.

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Filed under Advertising/Marketing, Content, Monetizing Mobile