STATE OF THE UNION: BETWEEN HOLLYWOOD AND WIRELESS TECH
By Lauren Coleman
We came, we saw, we conquered.
Yes, The A-List hit the CTIA Wireless I.T & Entertainment conference at the
earlier this week, and thank God we took our vitamins! A roller coaster ride of heavy-hitter keynotes, killer apps, and panels took us from Monday the 11th straight through Wednesday the 13th.
Starting it all off was a kind of tech appetizer in the form of the Billboard Mecca event held at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. While beautifully organized with concurrent panels on everything from games to films on the mobile phone, this day-long slew of info was suffocatingly representative of all one gender and one race, we'll let you guess which ones, as pundits and pacesetters serving up info on the stage.
High points included Sprint's Paul Reddick added some spice by dressing up as one of their content "stars" Ricky Bobby of Talladega Nights which demonstrated the execs' passion as a carrier about their commitment to entertainment content. Reddick also stressed that the wireless industry needs help from the entertainment industry to make the rights for older properties easier to obtain. Fireworks flew with Robert Tercek of Multimedia Networks frank comments about some of the politics of the industry, but all in all, for those who really cover the industry; we kept hearing that nothing really new was presented by these speakers. Perhaps this is because that so often they can't speak in specifics due to deals and partnerships at the fringe of being completed and also just the insecurity of not wanting to necessarily exchange ideas in an industry that is morphing as quickly as a kaleidioscope. Frustrating, sure, but these events provide for fabulous networking opportunities and the ability to see so many fresh new companies, applications and more that will propel this hot new medium. Albeit if they all use the same somewhat annoying lingo as "ecosystems," "awesome," and "walled garden."
Looking for celeb execs? They were all out from AOL to Sony Digital to Helio, Fox's Chernin,
and many more!
The buzz phrase throughout was "ease of use for the customer" as if a magic fairy had hypnotized everyone to finally realize that many people don't even know what is available on their phone much less how to always use all the fancy additions to the handset. And these mobile kidz are taking no prisoners as they plan just how to facilitate the use and education while tackling issues of advertising to "gifting" to make this industry one revenue generating behemoth! What is unfortunate is that somehow these companies are missing that they are selling the same thing to same people the same way. Clearly market segmentation and people who get it, is sorely needed!
Day two (technically day one) and Day three (technically day two) of the convention found us in the cavernous but pleasant-enough LA Convention center with a ton a stands from upstarts to Motorola, from the stiff to those blasting techno. Energy, energy, energy. People running in and out, deal making at the cafe center near by, huddling around celeb execs in adjacent meeting rooms; this was the epicenter, Kids, of everything that will come to affect your entertainment life, whether consumer or exec, for years to come.
But let's get into details on who/what to watch as you plan your mobile strategy for entertainment properties (and I stress that no company "owns" this territory yet, and don't believe for a moment that the established entertainment brands today will necessarily be the winners over boutique companies that are able to move faster and smarter.) Taking notes? Ready, set, go:
SHOZU: is an interesting little application that will help the consumer download digital media quickly without connecting to the Internet while on your cell phone. Touting the product's simplicity and consistency, Shozu's CEO Mark Bole explained that the application was six years in the making. It's free to subscribers and at the end of the month, they will already be releasing the next version! Cross-promo, rev share, it's all good with Shozu. We think this will be a company-to-watch.
TINY PICTURES: is an intriguing company in that it's all about image sharing with them but in a much more intimate way that posting to a blog for all to see. It's about using the phone to communicate, of course, but in a way that is not for the masses. This is about sharing WHILE you are experiencing what-have-you in a very personalized way. Though maybe not straight up entertainment, this is concept provides for a interesting overlap of "micro-communities" which will no doubt be valuable to certain brands in the very near future! Launched in June '06, the app works on every cameraphone, and, explains the company's head John Poisson, "with more than a billion camera phones, we should be doing something more interesting like forging human connection." No storage worries, Friends, because all images are stored on the company's server.
HOOK: Is the first to offer MMS cross-carrier in the
. An intriguing concept, this company is about digital trading cards, and the concept is kinda hot! Already negotiating with one network to create a package for one of its game shows, Hook is planning to offer the cards at $2.99 per pack and create collectible content. Yes, you read right. Stored on-line, the cards will definitely appeal to existing fans and deepen loyalty. Founder, Casey Jones, couldn't be more committed and affable. Look for interesting things to come from this company.
MBLOX & TELESCOPE: In the belly of the beast of SMS voting, this newly announced team of companies are the "T" in "text in your vote". Having already experienced major success with Endemol productions, this partnership can only make things hotter in what is now known as "participation TV". Having worked with such companies to successfully handle the major deluge of responses from "
's Got Talent" to the BET Awards, this is the team to partner with for the convergence of technology and TV.
MINDMATICS: Offers mobile marketing and has been the force behind such work for film's such as New Line Cinema's Snakes on a Plane. Customized for each client, Mindmatics develops wallpaper and games to extend the awareness of a film project. They also help companies such as Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile to optimize their offerings and develop deeper relationships and awareness about their consumers. Mindmatics GM, Hans Henkes also noted that the company is also beginning to work with television properties too such as "Midnight Money Madness" to develop 900-number SMS campaigns.
AIR2WEB: is an interesting company in that it is an "end-to-end full service company to take a company's brand to the mobile space," explains the company's VP of marketing Alfredo Navez. Air2Web has a variety of relationships from brands to carriers and has worked with such heavyweights as American Express and UPS!
COMVERSE: demonstrated an interested streaming video application called "Video Express" which allows a user to take video and stream it to others. Turning the mobile phone into a virtual mobile webcam in real time. This, folks, is the next level of user generated content, right here, although there could be some pesky rights issues down the road depending on who does what with it! It's a wonderful opportunity though and even combines Instant Messaging with the video!
SONY-ERICSSON: is clearly focused on mobile music and images. The company recently launched its Cybershot camera on the phone! The dual-front concept coupled of course with the company's legendary standards of image quality makes this a winner. Accessed via Java, this product is part of the company's overall objective to facilitate moible lifestyle experiences. While collaborations with such prior "partners" as The DaVinci Code film and certain Sony BMG artists, the gaming factor is not to be missed here. Offering both landscape and portrait opportunities to play, even the casual gamer will be impressed. Speaking aesthetically, Sony-Ericsson has some of the chicest phones around. Matte black spel ls nothing but sophistication but for those who like color, there is also a nice range. Scarcity is an issue though in the
currently so if you want to stand out from the
pack, think seriously about the quality and design of this brand.
LEAP: Leap is one of those innovative rebel companies that comes along as the dust settles in a land-grab type stage of an industry. Touted as providing carrier services for the "underserved market," this company offers two brands, Jump and Cricket to a 46% African-American consumer base. Keeping prices down by not partnering with handset companies, Leap offers consumers a $45 per month flat rate with an unlimited number of minutes. No credit checks and no contracts make this a very attractive option for consumers who live in the regions where this service is currently offered. "We've found that there is a strong need to connect, particularly within African-American and Latin families," explains the company's SVP of Marketing and Customer Care, Linda Wokoun. And connect they do! Thanks to, particularly Wokoun's drive to treat this particular segment with respect and attentiveness. The 8th largest carrier in the
and #5 in text, Leap is beginning to be seen as "disruptive" to some of the major carriers looking to keep all the goodies for themselves. 90% of Leap's Cricket and Jump users count their mobile as their primary and often their only phone. Using guerrilla marketing techniques, Leap is no joke and is definitely to be put on the radar.
PROVENANCE VENTURES: Provenance Ventures is a new, LA-based VC headed the former AG executive, Bryan Biniak, who was responsible for signing the Def Jam Mobile deal during his tenure there. Wise beyond his years, Biniak left AG to start this venture to support start-ups in the LA area "who shouldn't have to travel to
to find funding from a tier one company," he explains. But this is not your average tech VC. "I decided to stop complaining about the world and actually do something to make the world a better place," says Biniak. Thus, Provenance seeks to provide full support to start-ups that help fulfill that mission, and that mission only. For example, one of the first accomplishments of Provenance is that of a start-up which will facilitate interactive television. Why? Let's just say, it's on for the next presidential elections. Look for good things to come from this smart company that's not simply out for the "land grab" of mobile.
Of course, it's not all about tech for us. There were networking events at night, a plenty. Funny though that this segment plays from 6pm-8pm, and then I guess they pass out to get up super early for more deal-making the next day! Ah, tech people! Anyway, Disney Mobile was in effect, Sony Digital set up a chic little "camp" across from the Convention Center complete with Aretha tunes blasting early one evening. Air 2 Web had a nice gathering at the Foundation Room of the House of Blues, complete with the designer from MTV's "Pimp My Ride", Nokia of course, represented and the Mobile Entertainment Forum had a cool event complete with tarot card readings and mini-massages. Not sure whose idea that all was but shout out to the organization's head, Patrick Parodi, who at least had to approve it if not come up with it!
After all this, we are mobile-d out but only for a moment. Stay tuned for some things that we've got cookin' on this end. We're about to take the segmentation bull by the horns!