Cell Phones Transform into Multipurpose Entertainment Units
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And who needs to talk on cell phones these days when there is so much content? More than 2,000 companies are working on content to distribute on mobile phones. Already you can play 3D video games, compete in an online poker tournament or download songs as ring tones even before the songs are released on CD. With more than one and a half billion cell phones worldwide, mobile entertainment has become big business. NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.
WENDY KAUFMAN reporting:
Mobisodes, mobile phone-sized TV episodes, are now arriving at a cell phone near you. 20th Century Fox is betting that we'll download "24: Conspiracy," the world's first made-for-cell-phone TV show. Fox has created 24-minute-long mobisodes.
(Soundbite from "24: Conspiracy")
Unidentified Actor: Frick and three others were on a DOD profile list. Two of those three are now dead.
KAUFMAN: Producers and distributors of miniaturized products like mobisodes are looking to people like college sophomore Cejih Yung for both ideas and revenue.
Mr. CEJIH YUNG: My favorite thing on my phone is this little Web browser thing right here. You can log on, and, like, this little shopping cart icon, I can go and shop for ring tones, video games, different songs, different genres, stuff like that, different rock bands.
KAUFMAN: The University of Washington student says it's games he likes best, Super Mario Brothers and Tetris among them.
Mr. YUNG: This would be, I guess, like the theme song for one of my other ones.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. YUNG: Right now I should probably be reading, but, you know, I really want to go play my games. It's something handy that you didn't have. I mean, if you didn't have a cell phone, you'd probably--you know, like the next best thing if you're waiting at, like, the dentist office or something, you'd read a magazine, but you have your cell phone, play a games or two. I mean, it makes the time go by a lot quicker.
KAUFMAN: Wonder the campus of the University of Washington and you'll hear a cacophony of cell phones. Many of the ring tones have been downloaded for a fee from the Web.
(Soundbite of ring tone)
KAUFMAN: The Killers is one of Daisy Rae Abidwabo's(ph) favorite bands.
Ms. DAISY RAE ABIDWABO: You want to personalize everything you own to who you are. And I love music, and it makes me dance and it's great. It's--I know it's my cell phone, I don't have to worry about, like, the random, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, like Nokia one. And so it's good. I love it.
KAUFMAN: Nearly three billion cell phones are expected to be in use by the end of the decade. But for the wireless carriers to make substantial money, they need to sell more than just basic phone service and text messaging. As analyst Alex Slawsby of the market research firm IDC explains, they need content, a steady stream of things people will buy from them.
Mr. ALEX SLAWSBY (IDC): When you have three billion mobile phone users at some points, the revenue opportunity is staggering. And that's why mobile phone venders, wireless operators, content providers are all jockeying for position to be best positioned as that market continues to expand and open up.
KAUFMAN: Today content providers have worldwide revenues of about $7 billion. Industry analysts and market researchers predict that figure will grow to tens of billions over the next several years. Dan Kranzler is the CEO of Mforma. The company is one of the leading publishers and distributors of entertainment content to mobile phone companies.
Mr. DAN KRANZLER (CEO, Mforma): If you really think about it, there's only been four clear, new media in the world. You had radio, television, movie and the Internet. We now have the ability to create the fifth media.
KAUFMAN: Kranzler is referring to mass entertainment on a mobile phone screen. He, like others in the business, says young people are driving the market. Kranzler himself takes many cues from his own daughter. While his 25-year-old daughter sees the cell phone as a phone, his 18-year-old daughter views her mobile phone as her primary media connection.
Mr. KRANZLER: She looks at media as a snack as opposed to a full meal, meaning we would be involved in news and we would sit down and we would watch Walter Cronkite when we want to get a full idea of what's really going on in the world; my daughter wants to snack on news. She wants to get little tidbits about what's happening today, what happened yesterday, what's happening in culture, what's happening in music. And she likes those in very small bits and bites.
KAUFMAN: A size that's perfect for mobile media. Right now many eyes are on Japan, South Korea, even Europe, where people use this new media far more than in the US. The prospects for significant growth here are enormous, but there are challenges for the industry; among them, federal liability and coverage for cell phones and getting individuals over 30 to use their cell phones in a new way. And, of course, there's the very notion that a TV series comes in 60-second episodes.
Mr. YUNG: I don't know if I would ever, like, get so bored that I need to use that.
KAUFMAN: Again, college sophomore Cejih Yung.
Mr. YUNG: But, I mean, it could work. Sure. You know, why not? They have cars with DVD players in them, and they don't really need them there, but why not have cell phones with TV episodes? Just one small step.
KAUFMAN: That's one small step as people take their cell phone away from their ear and put it front of their face. Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.
MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
STEVE INSKEEP (Host): And I'm Steve Inskeep.
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