Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Wondeful World of New Technology


Now Playing on a Tiny Screen
LOS ANGELES, Oct. 16 - When Eric Young directed his first episodes for the cellphone serial drama "24: Conspiracy," it was the bullet holes that vexed him most. Mr. Young, hired to create 24 one-minute mobile episodes for a spinoff of the hit series "24," learned that making video for a pocket-size screen is far different from making it for a 27-inch television set. EDITOR'S NOTE: AHEM...OR BIGGER.....(NOT THAT SIZE MATTERS. SNICKER).

About 70 percent of the images he used were close-ups of actors, because panoramic shots appeared blurry. He said he used tiny speakers to hear what "the sound of a neck cracking" would be like on a cellphone after one of the episode's characters died from a snapped vertebra.

But for gunshot wounds, the director was forced to make the bullet holes extra large and to double the amount of blood so they could be easily identified on the small screen.

"We are all experimenting to see what works," Mr. Young said. "Every new medium finds its own way and rules. It will be true for this one, too."

In the past year, media companies have begun experimenting with broadcasting original programming made specifically for mobile phones to increase awareness of their television shows and movies. And interest in such programming may grow further: last week, Apple introduced a video iPod, which, while not a mobile phone, is another test of consumers' interest in portable entertainment.

So far, efforts by media companies are modest, limited largely to games, ring tones and wallpaper. But interest is growing, particularly in "mobisodes," short series that are already popular abroad.

In the United States, the News Corporation has been at the forefront, creating "24: Conspiracy," based on a 20th Century Fox Television serial; another serial based on "The Simple Life," a reality show that starred Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie; and two other serial dramas not tied to television shows. But other entertainment companies are entering the fray, focusing on comedy and animated shorts.

The MTV Networks division of Viacom is developing "Samurai Love God," an animated series that will be introduced on mobile telephones in February. It has described the series as "Austin Powers meets Akira Kurosawa," referring to the popular film character and the Japanese director. The Walt Disney Company, which has created made-for-mobile serials in Japan since 2002, has begun developing animated shorts based on non-Disney characters.

And Warner Brothers, a Time Warner unit, is in talks with several mobile phone companies to distribute an animated short series based on the comic books created by Seth Cohen, the aspiring comic book writer who is played by the actor Adam Brody on the hit show "The O.C."

"This is going to be a situation where we all try a bunch of different things because we are trying to figure out what is the right business model," said Kevin Tsujihara, an executive vice president of Warner Brothers Entertainment. "It will take time to evolve."

Greg Clayman, vice president of wireless strategy and operations at MTV Networks, added: "There are a lot of interesting things that are not being done yet. But we are taking the first steps."

Indeed, many entertainment executives compare mobile's expanding market for video to the Internet five years ago - promising, but only if media companies figure out how to make money.

It is unclear, too, how willing Americans will be to watch longer programs on a small device.

Mobisodes are more common among teenagers in Europe and Asia, largely because the advanced technology makes it easier for them to be viewed. And much of the original video programming now being produced is short - less than five minutes - and derived from youth-oriented television properties.

"Marketers thought they lost out on the Internet, and they don't want to lose out on mobile phones, too," said Linda Barrabee, a senior analyst for wireless mobile communications at the Yankee Group, a research firm in Boston. "There is a lot of interest on the part of studios to do something different in mobile."

Ms. Barrabee places the number of mobile video viewers at about 500,000 in the United States, a tiny number given that there are 193.6 million mobile phone subscribers. To watch video now, consumers must own a phone with video capabilities and pay a service fee to receive broadcasts. A Yankee Group survey found that only 1 percent of those who subscribe to video service on their cellphones watch it monthly. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND WHAT PERCENTAGE OF THOSE FIND THAT THEY ARE RUNNING INTO THINGS OR FALLING DOWN A LOT CAUSE THEY ARE SO BUSY STARING AT THEIR PHONE THAT THEY DON'T WATCH WHERE THEY ARE GOING?

Entertainment executives are not the only ones hoping to extend brand names. Cellphone makers are, too. At the Toronto International Film Festival recently, Motorola sponsored a mobile movie category. And last month, the mobile phone maker Nokia and one of Taiwan's largest telecommunications company, Chunghwa Telecom, said they would organize a mobile film festival as part of a promotion for Chunghwa's advanced wireless service in Taiwan, known as third generation.

So far, Fox has been the most active promoter of mobisodes. Lucy Hood, president of Fox Mobile Entertainment, said she decided to pursue the idea in February 2004 after hearing that cellphone companies were gearing up to introduce third-generation wireless service. She suggested that Fox create a video pilot for "Sunset Hotel," a 26-episode serial of one-minute episodes based on characters living in a hotel. The pilot had its debut at industry conferences last year and was well received.

Instead of just running edited versions of previously aired television shows, Ms. Hood said Fox sought to produce original content. Fox did create a 26-episode serial based on "The Simple Life," deriving the twice-weekly mobisodes from extra footage from the reality series. The episodes, introduced in March, were sold for 99 cents each, and Ms. Hood said consumers who bought them purchased three, on average.

By mid-2004, Fox was in production on two original series, including "Sunset Hotel" and "Love and Hate."

"We were flying a little blind," said the producer, Daniel Tibbets. The first episode of "Love and Hate," he said, "looked like a trailer" and was edited four times. As a result Fox devised the format for a minute-long story arc that started with a conflict, continued with dialogue and ended with a cliffhanger to entice viewers to watch the next episode.

It was the same format Fox used in making "24: Conspiracy." After getting the go-ahead from the producers of "24" less than a year ago, the creators of the series shot the episodes digitally over three days, Ms. Hood said. Fox also tested how best to send files to Vodafone, the cellphone carrier in the United Kingdom where the weekly mobisodes began last Jan. 13, at the same time as the opening episode of the fourth season of "24."

"24: Conspiracy" did not feature "24's" cast or story line. Instead, Fox hired nonunion actors to keep the cost for the serial under $500,000. "With television, one of the things you have to deal with is the guild and union issues, and we said, 'Go ahead and do this nonunion and on the cheap,' " said Joel Surnow, a producer of "24." "It is not a '24' thing." EDITOR'S NOTE: OOO. I BET THE UNIONS (AND THE CAST OF "24") LOVED IT WHEN THEY HEARD ABOUT THIS, HUH?!

Mr. Surnow said he was not concerned that the mobisodes might hurt the "24" brand name.

"In a minute, how bad could it be?" he said. Besides, he suggested, few consumers would abandon television for the really small screen. "At the end of the day, my 14-year-old may play with her phone," he said, "but she will sit down for an hour and watch the 'Gilmore Girls.' "

After the debut of "24: Conspiracy" in the United Kingdom (where the series sold for $10.60), that show, along with "Sunset Hotel" and "Love and Hate," appeared in the United States as part of the Vcast video service from Verizon Wireless.

Ms. Hood said that "24: Conspiracy" and "The Simple Life" were three times as popular as the two dramas not tied to television shows.

Now, Fox is in early discussions on a serial tied to "Prison Break," a new television series. Ms. Hood said Fox had learned three things in its early experiments: short mobisodes are better, consumers want brand-name actors and episodes should be frequent - more than once a week.

If actors begin demanding movie star salaries, using them in mobisodes could be a challenge. In the wake of last week's video iPod announcement, for instance, five Hollywood unions called on television producers to begin discussions about how members would be compensated for shows transmitted on portable devices.

Still, one thing is almost certain, Ms. Hood said: It is unlikely that actors or directors will have their mobile series canceled midseason. "I told my boss we are the leading supplier of mobisodes," she said. "We have 100 minutes in the can!"


CBS To Distribute Via iTunes
by Gavin O'Malley, Tuesday, Oct 18, 2005 6:00 AM EST
CBS WILL DISTRIBUTE ITS FREE podcasts, from "60 Minutes" to the long-running soap "Guiding Light," on Apple's iTunes Music Store, CBS Digital President Larry Kramer said Monday. The extensive suite of CBS podcasts includes news, entertainment, and sports programming on television, radio, and CBS Digital media sites including CBS.com, CBSNews.com, UPN.com and CBS SportsLine.com.

The content can now be accessed from the iTunes Podcast Directory, as well as CBS Digital media sites, and will be highlighted in customized iTunes pages promoting the full offering of CBS podcasts for each respective CBS Digital Media property.

Other audio offerings include CBS's public affairs show, "Face The Nation;" "Survivor Live," which focuses on "Survivor: Guatemala;" the soap opera roundup "CBS Soapbox;" "NFL Hot Topic;" and "Fantasy Football: Roster Trends."

As is standard practice with podcasts, once users subscribe to a particular show, iTunes will automatically check to see when there are new episodes, and download them onto the users' computers, so they may then sync them to their iPods.

In his announcement, Kramer did not address the question on everyone's minds: When will CBS begin distributing more than audio content to Apple? The company, of course, just last week debuted a new iPod, which can play streaming video. On the same day, Apple's CEO Steve Jobs announced a deal with Disney to offer five of its premiere television shows, including "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives," through iTunes.

CBS.com Has Talent Spin Blogging Marketing Support
by Wayne Friedman, Tuesday, Oct 18, 2005 7:00 AM EST
CBS.COM WILL HAVE ITS STARS, writers, and producers do some extra marketing spin by offering up weekly blogs for a number of CBS' prime-time shows.

CBS.com is now featuring blogs from "CSI: Miami," "Survivor: Guatemala," "How I Met Your Mother," and "Ghost Whisperer."

In the coming weeks, CBS.com will unveil blogs for "Threshold," "NCIS," and "The Amazing Race: Family Edition."

Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital Media, said in a release: "We're confident these blogs will help drive traffic to our sites, while also increasing the visibility of these series on a whole new platform--and build an even stronger relationship with the viewers."

For instance, "The Ghost Whisperer" co-executive producer and famed medium James Van Praagh writes a blog providing behind-the-scenes information and goings-on in the spirit world.
And for "Survivor: Guatemala," the whole cast of contestants will contribute, analyzing the action and game strategy in Guatemala. EDITOR'S NOTE: OK, BUT ARE THESE TRUE BLOGS? OR JUST PR MALARKY GHOST-WRITTEN (NO "GHOST WHISPERER" PUN INTENDED; THE SHOW TAKES ITSELF MUUUUUUCH TOO SERIOUSLY FOR PUNNING) BY SOME CBS PUBLICITY HACK?

Going Digital In 2009 Means Chaos For TV Customers, Research Groups Say
by Wayne Friedman, Tuesday, Oct 18, 2005 7:00 AM EST

TWO TV AND MEDIA RESEARCH groups warn that the Federal government's push for digital television by the year 2009 will wreak havoc with TV customers.

Research companies Points North Group and Horowitz Associates say a proposed U.S. Senate digital TV bill, which would terminate analog TV service in 2009, could mean a backlash from consumers. EDITOR'S NOTE: WE CAN'T SEEM TO GET OUR BLOOD STIRRED BY A PRESIDENT WHO LIES TO US AND THEN SENDS US INTO WAR, BUT BY HEAVENS YOU'D BETTER NOT MESS WITH OUR FREE TV!!!

The researchers say 55 percent of TV homes, which have cable, have no digital signal--and have no intention of getting it.

In U.S. homes, while the primary TV set may be connected to a digital set-top box, second and third TV sets in the home don't have digital set-top boxes. Instead, those TVs get cable signals directly from coaxial cables that run into homes. The research group says this represents about 67 percent--or 180 million television sets--in the United States.

"Who is going to pay for the extra box that you are going to need?" asks Spencer Wolpin, senior analyst of Points North Group. "Will the cable company be forced to give you a box?" EDITOR'S NOTE: YOU MEAN TIME WARNER ISN'T A CHARITABLE ORGANIZATION? (BATTING EYELASHES....)

The bipartisan bill was conceived because of emergency facilities that failed in the wake of the 9/11 tragedies. Federal administrators are pushing to give all analog TV signals--ones that broadcasters currently use--to these emergency services because this spectrum is more robust, and won't fail in times of emergencies.

This was designed in reaction to the events that occurred on 9/11, when radio signals were too weak to alert emergency workers--which would have directed them to quickly exit crumbling World Trade Center buildings. Digital signals will be given free to the private sector. But Wolpin says not all broadcasters are ready to spend the money to abandon analog and switch to digital--especially in a short three-year time span, according to the bill's time frame. EDITOR'S NOTE: SEE CONGRESS MANDATED THIS IN A SORT OF VAGUE, 'MAKE IT HAPPEN' KIND OF WAY. TERRIBLY EFFECTIVE. (KINDA LIKE THAT "LEAVE NO CHILD BEHIND" THING).

From a point of view where Republicans typically let the marketplace decide, this bill baffles analysts. "It's surprising the Republican administration is forcing these changes," said Wolpin. The bill has a lot of weight behind it because of its bipartisan effort. The bill's sponsors are Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). The bill also has major support from Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).

Cable operators could be adding to the confusion. Right now, 25 percent of cable subscribers have digital set-top boxes, said Wolpin. But while cable operators claim digital is the future, he says, companies are still giving customers analog set-top boxes. Says Wolpin: "It stuns me, from a business point of view, that they are still doing this."EDITOR'S NOTE: NOT TIME WARNER IN HOUSTON. I HAD TWO BOXES, AND ONE WAS DIGITAL AND ONE ANALOG (I DID THIS ON PURPOSE FOR A VARIETY OF REASONS), AND TIME WARNER MADE ME GIVE UP THE ANALOG BOX. (WELL....I GUESS I COULD HAVE KEPT IT, BUT THEY WERE CEASING TO SEND ANY SIGNALS TO IT).


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