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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 January, 2005, 00:24 GMT
Short mobile movies in your pocket

By Stephen Evans
BBC North America business correspondent

Star Wars - stormtrooper's helmet
Modern technology demands something a bit more up-to-date
Clearly, you wouldn't want to watch the epic Lord of the Rings or Star Wars on your mobile phone.

Nor are the handhelds ideal for the three-and-a-half hours of Seven Samurai or the Super Bowl.

Big-screen epics are not best viewed by bunches of friends clutching cans of beer and a mobile.

So a new form of video is being devised. Just as radio and then television spawned new genres of drama so will video phones.

New deals

This means 3G users will no longer be restricted to little 'humorous' snippets of car stunts, human cannonballs or dancing penguins.

Gollum's desperate longing differs from that of mobile phone users

Fox Broadcasting is producing one minute length "mobisodes" of its thriller "24" in Europe and may do the same next month in the US.

But it's not quite like the television version. The small screen means wide panoramas are a waste of space and close ups of characters work better. It's about paring down plot and screen detail.

The other problem with cell-phone drama is copyright.

Television companies usually own the dramas they've made, so simply putting them on new broadcasting outlets like mobile phones causes legal difficulties.

Contracts have to be renegotiated. Accordingly, the phone version of "24" will be re-shot with a new cast.

Deals have to be done so programme makers and phone companies are talking to each other. MTV and Microsoft are negotiating, for example, to find ways of bringing music video to phone screens.

Sport, news and soap

The US is behind Europe which is behind Japan and South Korea in the third generation or 3G mobile phone technology. Two companies are making the running: Vodafone and 3, the Hutchison 3G service.

There have been some successes.

In Britain, 3 has more than a million subscribers and video clips of top soccer matches were downloaded by 400,000 people on the first day of the season.

In Austria, pictures from a live camera on the slopes get viewed on the phones of skiers thinking about a day on the slopes.

Sport, news and soaps are clearly the most viable subjects.

Adverts or subscription

Quality of picture is not paramount while information is, whether it be a score or a plot line or a breaking event.

Fox Mobile's 24
Fox will employ new actors for its "24" mobisodes

What isn't clear is how it will be paid for.

In the US, Warner expects to charge for mobisodes of its teen soap opera, The OC Insider. Other companies are negotiating with Nike and Coca Cola about product placement in dramas.

In Europe, subscription is the likely model, with phone users paying for a news and sports and soap service from their phone company.

When you mention video and money, pornography can't be far behind.

It's not the product the phone companies are pushing, but be sure that with 170 million super-small screens in the US alone, somebody somewhere is devising a way of filling some of them with sexually explicit images.


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