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4/27/2006
08:55 AM
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Mobile Content Issues Resonate

Executives at a broadcasting trade show discussed technology and other problems with mobile video, including the size and audio quality of mobile devices and digital rights management.

Video and television on mobile devices are pushing into the consumer market, but putting a television in every pocket won't happen overnight. A panel of industry experts examined the complexities at the iHollywood Forum during the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) 2006 conference earlier this week in Las Vegas.

Issues range from content size and audio quality to video depth for full-length movies and digital rights management (DRM). Don't forget about variations in phones built on opposing standards, MediaFLO and DVB-H. The cellular phone handsets require chips that enable carriers to deliver multicast TV signals, rather than point to point. The content designed for large high-definition screen differs from that required on a mobile phone. Even if it's the same movie or video game, on HDTV the camera shots are wide. Handsets require tighter angles.

But problems aren't limited to size and shots, said Bob Zitter, HBO executive vice president and chief technology officer. "HBO programming has a wide range of dark to light images, and that doesn't translate well to a portable environment," he said. "We ran a test version of 'Deadwood' on a cell phone, a scene where everyone was sitting around a campfire. All you could see is a little flicker of light."

Audio presents challenges, too. Naysayers believe audio, rather than video, will drive cellular phone content. "Music videos will work because music is secondary and audio is primary," said Saul Berman, partner at Global and Americas Business Strategy leader, IBM Business Consulting Services, in an internet with TechWeb. "Sports highlights, not the game, will work because if I can get the play-by-play that's probably enough."

HBO runs a dynamic range of sound, which doesn't play-out well on cellular phone, panelist agreed. Resolving the problem could lie in redesigning the handset. The lively discussion prompted Zitter to turn toward Nokia's Bob Shallow sitting next to him to offer advice. "It's not good to have the video coming out the front and audio out the back of the handset," Zitter said. Shallow, Nokia's North America head of music and rich media business unit, laughed and said, "We'll have that fixed before the end of the conference."

Perhaps not, but Nokia's N92 cellular phone, the first integrated DVB-H mobile device in the Nokia N series for watching broadcast TV programs, begins shipping to U.S. markets in November as carriers bring up G3 networks. The phone began shipping in Europe last year.

Other problems exist. Most media content still doesn't adapt easily to the mobile-phone formats. The dilemma just presents an opportunity to deliver movies, clips, cartons and music videos from artists that have been shutout by major theaters, telecommunication carriers and providers. Alain Fernando-Santana, chief marketing officer at Envivio Inc., believes content delivery on mobile devices will create a new business model and avenue to generate revenue for independent movie makers, content creators and Internet service providers.

This high-tech audience relates well to technology and more tolerable when it comes to dealing with a mobile environment that often means dropped calls and some initial technical glitches, said Fernando-Santana.

The stakes are high. If all goes well, 15 million U.S. consumers will watch TV programming on their mobile phones by 2009, up from 3 million this year, estimates eMarketer Inc. The research firm forecasts more than 100 million worldwide users of paid or sponsored mobile broadcast video services by the end of 2009.

Verizon Wireless associate director of entertainment programming Robin Chan thinks customers are ready. The carrier pushed 20 minute clips to subscribers, only to have consumers gobble-up the content. Tests by Verizon also demonstrate consumers will watch hour-long movies on cellular phones. Chan said it's about content, and whether the subscribers stands waiting for a flight in an airport or sitting on the subway or the bus traveling to work.

Yes, agreed Mark Thame, media operations engineer at Winston & Strawn LLP, an international law firm. Thame, who stood in the NVIDIA Corp. booth later in the day, said he may not watch a full-length movie, but would want to get sports highlights or news updates. "It would depend on how bored I am," he said, looking on as a full-length movie saved on a 2 gigabit NVIDIA graphics card played out an MPEG-4 file on both Sony Ericcson and Motorola Razor cellular phones, neither available today in the United States.

Panasonic, Matsushita Electronic and IBM on Wednesday jointly launched a "download to burn" entertainment model that enable consumers to burn digital audio and video content from the Internet onto SD Memory Cards and play them on devices, such as cellular phones.

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