Hollywood scorns mobile TV

RCR Wireless News
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – “Internet circa 1996,” M:Metrics senior analyst Seamus McAteer said. “If I had to give it a score, it’s a C-minus at best,” said Steve Smith, managing director at Playboy TV International. “I think it’s a complete miss, I’m going back to traditional TV,” said Bill Sanders, VP of mobile programming and digital at Sony Pictures Television International.

All this was said about the state of mobile television in the United States and in some cases abroad; although, to be fair, Sanders strongly hinted he was joking.

Still, in the grand scheme of things, mobile television is so far returning very little in the way of profit, subscriber numbers or overall viewers, according to those in the industry.

“Numbers are kind of small overall,” McAteer said during a panel at the Future of Television conference here. M:Metrics reports anywhere from 1% to 2% of wireless subscribers now use mobile TV services in the United States.

“We see decent takeaways when the service is optimized for mobile,” McAteer added, referencing successes in Italy and South Korea.

Still, nothing will drive adoption like free, he said.

TV for free

“My money’s on the YouTube model for now,” McAteer said. “I just think that free is a really promising way to build adoption.”

YouTube.com ranked as the No. 11 domain viewed by smartphones, according to M:Metrics measurements.

The majority of consumers won’t tolerate restrictions or schedules, said Derek Broes, senior VP of worldwide business development at Paramount Pictures.

“Look at how you can build something for the consumer,” he said. “We have to figure out how we can build these products that allow them to interact with them in ways that they want,” rather than “dictating” a specific approach.

“The consumer is going to do what they want to do, and if we don’t provide it to them they’re going to find a way to do it,” Broes concluded.

Sanders of Sony Pictures cast doubt on what he called the “one-to-many, one-way, non-interactive format” approach that most mobile TV vendors have taken. Most consumers will want an on-demand experience coupled with interactivity, he said.

“If linear TV on a portable device were so compelling, we’d be running around with Watchmen, which have been around 20 years,” Sanders said.

Clearance for mobile

Networks and studios are also walking a tight line on rights clearance and regulatory issues.

“Regulatory is a big issue for us,” said Smith of Playboy TV International. “I have to get approval on everything we use because of broader issues.”

Still, he admits it’s virtually impossible for the company to reach cellphones in the United States, due to wireless carriers’ tight control over the market.

“We’re completely shut out of this market because carriers won’t touch adult content,” Smith said.

Artistic expression

In the case of Paramount, Broes said long-standing, rigidly structured licensing agreements are preventing the company from pursuing more inventive ways of using its existing catalog. But beyond that, it’s art – and art doesn’t always lend itself to restrictions or drastic revisions.

“It’s not just clearance issues, it’s dealing with someone’s art form,” Broes said.

Discovery Communications holds a unique upper hand among its competitors when it comes to licensing, said Douglas Craig, the company’s senior VP of digital media.

“We’re somewhat fortunate in that most of our content is non-fiction in nature,” he said. “The content is evergreen, it doesn’t change that often.” Moreover, Discovery owns the “underlying rights,” he said.

Last year the company produced 17 made-for-mobile series, an even mix between re-purposed content from its most popular shows or original development.

FCC’s McDowell argues for lighter regulatory touch

Daly: TV is not dead