More than a third of mobile phone users cited uninspiring content as the reason they don't access multimedia services, according to a recent Cambridge University study.
The creators of Ripe TV think they have the answer, at least for males in the advertiser-coveted 18-to-35-year-old demographic: bikini-clad babes, extreme-sport stunts and salty sock puppets.
Pitched as the first advertiser-supported, multi-platform network of its type, Ripe TV offers a variety of short-form programming streaming over the Internet, downloadable to a mobile phone, or broadcast to regular TV for Comcast cable subscribers who have video on demand. Programming for Apple's video iPod is in the works.
While most cell phone multimedia content requires a subscription or pay-per-view fee, Ripe TV intends to pay for itself like traditional broadcast television, but without the lengthy commercial breaks that TV viewers these days can skip over via new technology.
Hearst Corp. became a minority partner in the company in August with a $5 million investment.
Ripe Digital Entertainment's 34-year-old founder and chief executive, Ryan Magnussen, dubs the model "immersive advertising" and it enables viewers to watch shows and ads simultaneously by embedding the spot in the show so that a product logo or a short sponsorship message pops in and out along the edge of the screen.
The typical 3- to 12-minute Ripe show, edited from longer shows that the company licenses, is short by design. "We call it 'ADD TV,'" said Magnussen, playing on the acronym for attention deficit disorder. "You have five or six minutes, you don't have a half hour, you're on your phone, you're on your computer, you want a quick fix, you go to Ripe."
The network's nine shows are updated every Friday, with at least five past episodes available at a time. Titles include the self-explanatory "Bikini World," an indie music video show called "Ripe Rocks," an action sports show called "No Limits," and a Howard Stern-knockoff called "Late Show," where cigar-chomping host Ed the Sock swaps suggestive commentary with his scantily clad female guests.
About 60 percent of Ripe TV's content is licensed, and the rest original. The licensed material tends to be severely edited, and not only because of the time restrictions of the format. A lot of the submissions, which come from independent producers, are of low quality in their entirety, Magnussen said.
While pretty girls are a mainstay of the network, "we certainly don't want to be the 'hot bikini network,'" he said. "Our most popular content are the bikini shows, but we also want to launch a (show) on different subjects every three weeks."
The network has been a compelling enough marketing medium for Ripe to attract sponsorship deals from Procter & Gamble Co., video game-maker Electronic Arts Inc., and wireless content provider Boost Mobile LLC.
"We think what Ripe is doing is an exciting and important part of the evolution in how consumers are consuming entertainment," said Doug Scott, Electronic Arts' director of entertainment marketing. "People can get around most of the commercial messages in traditional media. You need to make your message compelling and make it an unobtrusive part of whatever content people are consuming."
Magnussen's track record may also have played role in attracting financial support for his latest venture. His first company, Zentropy, an interactive advertising services agency, grew from an award-winning class project he developed while an undergraduate at the University of Southern California's entrepreneur training program.
The agency was founded on a shoestring in 1995 by Magnussen and college buddies Patrick Bradley and Steven Voci, who are now president and vice president of sales, respectively, at Ripe Digital. Zentropy was acquired in 1999 by Interpublic Group.
Magnussen estimates that Ripe's proprietary advertising embedding and distribution technology gives the company at least an 18-month head start before copycats start creating serious competition. That should provide enough time to spin off a few more networks targeting specific male interests, such as music.
And perhaps even a network aimed at girls or women, though he admits to being a little wary. "We're all guys here," he said. "I don't think we understand that market as well as we should."
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