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.