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Last Updated: Friday, 17 February 2006, 16:49 GMT
Content challenge for mobile TV
Spencer Kelly
By Spencer Kelly
Click presenter

How to make content compelling enough for a small screen is the question taxing the minds of broadcasters who want a piece of the mobile phone pie. To get one perspective on the issue, Click spoke to Gideon Bierer from MTV Networks.

Mobile TV
Only certain types of image will work well on a small screen
MTV Networks is just one of the content providers hoping its material will be used on the new mobile devices that are emerging.

But how will it make its content compelling enough for the small screen?

"We're coming at it from three angles", says Gideon Bierer.

"One is we're taking our best programming, our most popular programming, and putting it - highlights and the essence of it - onto the mobile screen. That's what consumers definitely want.

"Secondly, we're taking those shows and creating some extra, added value if you like: behind the scenes, previews, out-takes, the kind of stuff that's worked so well in DVDs.

"And thirdly we're coming up with original programming, where we start from what would work well on mobiles and work backwards to create new ideas, new series.

"For example we launched a series called Head and Body which was a series of two-minute episodes, very compelling, designed for the mobile phone."


Mr Bierer believes pricing models will be a combination of monthly subscriptions and payment for individual programmes.

But for continuous streaming TV, it is up to the mobile operators to decide exactly how to price it.

Gideon Bierer
I've no doubt that we'll get a very, very good experience very soon across most of the world
Gideon Bierer, MTV
"Most are going for the model that's been very successful in traditional pay television: a wide variety of channels offered for a relatively affordable monthly price.

"Some are experimenting with daily pricing, to encourage sampling and to get people familiar with the idea."

When 3G was launched, one of the big things we were going to do was watch football on the mobile. But you cannot see the ball on a small screen.

Mr Bierer says: "There are challenges and opportunities in relation to screen size. I'll give an example of what we're doing at MTV. We are changing the way we subtitle programming.

"In the movie and TV business there is obviously a very significant presence of English language content that only gets subtitled.

"But regular subtitling on mobiles doesn't work. So we're re-subtitling with slightly different wording, shorter, sharper, bigger fonts, designed to work for this particular medium.

"It's an example of what I said at the beginning about programming for the media."

Hype or happening?

The length and breadth of this week's 3GSM mobile phone trade show in Barcelona, it seems all anyone was talking about is HSDPA - the high-speed data delivery service - as well as mobile TV, which is what they are going to put down the high-speed data delivery service.

But this industry is notorious for over-hyping things: 3G, Bluetooth, Wap. They have all been bigged-up, and of course they have not lived up to the hype.

Does Gideon Bierer think mobile TV will be any different?

"All the experience so far has shown that TV is something that the consumer really understands", he says.

"They get the idea that paying six to 10 euros, dollars or pounds a month can give them a good range of TV content, well known brands."

On the technology side, he believes, networks will be built up and speeds will get faster and faster.

"Huge investments are going in there. I've no doubt that we'll get a very, very good experience very soon across most of the world."

And he is convinced that there will be a point very soon, over the next three years, when the majority of handsets that are shipped in Western markets will come with the capability of watching TV.

"It won't be a separate purchase, it won't be just the high-end. Right now it's obviously for the early adopters but already in Japan it's quite hard to buy a phone that doesn't have video capabilities.

"So the natural replacement cycle will ensure that the technology's available, then it's up to the content providers and operators to create really compelling services we'll buy."

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