The media frontier keeps moving into your pocket and onto your laptop.
ABC has its hit shows available on Apple's iTunes for $1.99 per episode, CBS is distributing shows on-demand for 99 cents through Comcast Communications Inc., NBC is offering 99-cent shows on-demand through DirecTV, and Warner Bros. is re-releasing old TV shows like "Welcome Back Kotter" and "Growing Pains" through America Online.
"TV distribution has been cracked wide open," said Forrester Research Inc. analyst Josh Bernoff.
Though companies have been talking about video on cell phones and laptops for a long time, the best content has been missing: popular, ad-supported network TV shows like "CSI" or "The West Wing," wrote Bernoff and Jim Nail. Once the sacred content wall had been breached, the avalanche of agreements followed.
Phone companies started the fracas last year, when Sprint PCS Group launched MobiTV, offering 14 channels to subscribers with third-generation cell phones including ABC, CNBC, and the Discovery Channel.
Verizon Communications Inc. launched VCast in February, providing video clips from MTV Network's VH-1 and Comedy Central over its phone network. Cingular Wireless announced a partnership this fall with RealNetworks Inc. in which Real's OnlineTV streaming television service would be available over Cingular's third-generation network, as well as video games. And now TiVo Inc. is offering subscribers the ability to download television programs onto their computers.
"What we've seen is a lot of interest on the part of media companies in the prospect of video on mobile handsets," said Seamus McAteer, senior analyst at M:Metrics Inc., a Seattle-based wireless research firm. "They see there's a fusion of devices capable of playing games, and Hollywood studios are making money actually earning royalties on mobile game titles and that's sort of got their attention."
It's gained some viewer attention as well. In September, 2.1 million people viewed mobile video, according to M:Metrics, which has only begun to measure the evolving sector. And 10 percent of mobile subscribers reported they were likely to view a TV or video clip on their handheld device in the coming year.
The media sector is "quite enamored" with the mobile distribution right now, according to McAteer, because the payment model is already established through monthly phone bills. "The Internet was a network without billing infrastructure, but the mobile environment has a billing network in place that is quite flexible," he said.
Studio participation so far has been limited to video game licenses and ring tones. But movie trailers are becoming viable mobile content as cross-promotional advertising agreements abound. And, in what some see as another step in the mobile direction, NBC Universal has inked a deal with peer-to-peer file sharing company Wurld Media Inc. to offer Universal movies over its Peer Impact file-sharing service. This allows users to download digital movies onto their computers for a fee. The movies are rented the user has 30 days to download the movie once it's purchased and then 24 hours after it starts playing.
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