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The next big thing in TV may be small.

By now, everyone in the TV industry has heard the buzz about TV-on-cellphones. It is the talk at water coolers, at TV studio lots and at network and producers' boardrooms. It may just be the next frontier for TV programming. While it is still early, these days there's no such thing as too early.

Here is a short treatment of what is going on in this marketplace. I run two companies: One is Nextpert, which creates two-to-three minute trends segments for the news on broadcast TV every week. We live in the world of few-minute television and have focused on it for over six years. My second company, Two Minute Television, has created and produced several one to three minute entertainment series that have a news hook so they play across all three screens--television (broadcast and cable), websites and, most recently, cellphones.

In time there will be a market and a need for short-form programming. As the landscape changes, stations, cable networks and local cable will look for differentiation and become less firmly entrenched in the mantra that all shows have to be a half or full hour. Ending regular programs with two-minute shows could prevent viewers from habitual channel-surfing and retain the audience on a specific channel between shows. As millions of viewers discover the other screens, and they become a larger part of everyday life, the desire to have access to two to three minute programming on television will be enhanced.

The second screen is the web. Video streaming from websites is a growing sector, and popular websites are looking for video to offer their visitors and subscribers. Video on the web is less cluttered than on TV and is predominantly between one and three minutes in length, because computer users' patience levels tend to wear thin thereafter. The marketplace for website video streaming continues throughout the day, depending upon the type of site and its type of content. News content is very popular, but we have found that lifestyle, trends and entertainment content can also play, as long as the short shows are compelling, and shot with the smaller screen in mind.

The most vibrant and newest screen is TV-on-cellphones, and this marketplace is really just beginning. The first truly commercial services were launched at NATPE this January, so it is safe to assume that what you see, hear and read about now is not all we'll be watching five years from now. The most obvious applications for TV-on-cellphones are news and sports. News bulletins and updates, sports highlights and latest scores, entertainment news and gossip are short in duration and have a built-in audience. Repurposed programming (like two-minute features and recaps of prime-time shows and behind-the-scenes shows) will have an audience, but probably not drive this market.

Nextpert released some of our news features to this market, including What's Next in Technology, Paris Lingerie, fashion coverage of the Oscars and Golden Globes' red carpets, Car of the Future and Dream Homes, among others. However, these are not the "killer apps" of this burgeoning market. Porn is a choice that comes to mind, but we won't see this in the U.S. anytime soon, because cellphone carriers do not want to advocate this sector.

One application getting buzz is made-for-cellphone programming. Fox introduced the first three series last month: 24 Conspiracy (an adaptation of the primetime series without the marquee names), Love and Hate and Sunset Hotel. Two Minute Television jumped in with two original series: Genius On A Shoestring (the first two-minute reality show) and News With A Punchline (top comics deliver their riffs on the week's big stories).

Several sectors will emerge and these will include both taking hour programs and specials and adapting them into two-minute segments, and making original short-form series. In order to capture and retain the audience, these shows must have a beginning, a middle and an end, plus a reason for viewers to keep coming back. Cellphone subscribers are paying for TV service, so there is an obligation to truly entertain. What is important to recognize is that cellphone service is becoming a commodity, so cell carriers and MVNOs (those who buy space and re-sell under their brand--like Virgin) are actively seeking new services that can increase their revenue-per-subscriber. There are several different revenue models used by carriers, including a monthly fee for unlimited service, channels of service and video on demand (downloading and pay-per-minute). As the industry matures, models similar to those in cable are likely to emerge.

How U.S. and Foreign Programmers Can Make Money

For evolving markets, especially TV-on-cellphones, programmers can create programming or adapt existing programs for the short-form TV marketplace. While the carriers are the gatekeepers, and brands still have the major edge, it is not a closed market--in the end, the consumer will determine the winners. The TV market is still ad-supported (as are websites), and it is possible to sell ads or commercial time.

Product placement is another potential opportunity. Cellphone subscribers pay for services, so it is possible to generate revenues from users downloading your content. This market is highly international: it is booming in Asia, and Europe is not far behind. Americans love television, so it is a no-brainer to assume that the U.S. market is going to be vibrant. Projections from a leading research firm predict that there will be 270 million subscribers to TV-on-cellphone service within five years. If we assume that the average subscriber pays $100 per year for TV-cell service, the math becomes quite inviting.

All of these new sectors are worth the attention of programmers because they could generate new revenue streams for existing programming and become outlets for new programs. We live in a time-compressed society and while we may not have an hour to view a show, we all have two minutes.

David Post is the chairman and executive producer of New York-based Nextpert News Network, a producer of new content for news stations across the U.S., and Two Minute Television Network, a producer and distributor of entertainment programming for the three screens: TV, websites that video stream content and TV-on-cellphones.
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Title Annotation:The Fourth Screen; Television cell service the upcoming market
Author:Post, David
Publication:Video Age International
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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