Hollywood Goes Wireless
By Joachim Bamrud, Fri May 30 00:00:00 GMT 2003
Campaigns for the new Star Wars and Spider-Man movies are the latest examples of the growing ties between Hollywood and the mobile sector. Up next: 3G movies and trailers.
Children, teenagers and adults
all over the world are now lining up to watch the latest Star Wars
movie, "Episode II - Attack of the Clones." But apart from the
latest plot turn and exhibit of George Lucas' impressive special
effects, the movie also marks the latest chapter in the growing
relationship between Hollywood and the mobile phone
It's a relationship that is evolving quickly -
from mobile producers placing their phone in a hot Hollywood movie to
Hollywood studios distributing movies, trailers and movie-related
content on mobile phones.
While a lot of the focus right now is
on ringtones and logos, both the movie industry and the mobile phone
industry are most excited about the ability to download trailers and
even actual movies on mobile devices, an option made possible by 3G
technology, which can provide data transfer speeds up to 2MB per
"We're really excited about 3G phones,"
says Alex Kanakaris, CEO and founder of Kanakaris Wireless, a
California-based company that has been offering full-length movies
through the Internet since 1995 and through Pocket PC's the past
In Japan, the country's two top carriers - NTT
DoCoMo and KDDI - are both offering 15-second movie trailers in their 3G
wireless Internet services. FOMA, the 3G service from DoCoMo, also
features 15-second surf movies and videos. And earlier this year - from
February 18 to March 9 - DoCoMo tested out broadcasts of video and
advertising to PDA's in conjunction with California-based ActiveSky
and Japanese ad agency Dentsu.
Some 210 test users were able to
see free movies through Sharp's Zaurus PDA after first seeing a
15-second advertisement. "Streaming video is … still in the early
adopter phase, but it's far more developed in Japan than anywhere
else in the world," says Gerhard Fasol of Eurotechnology, a
A Myriad of
U.S. operators are paying close attention to
Japan and will likely follow suit soon. "I can see us offering
our customers the opportunity to view movie clips and trailers in the
near future," says Greg Roberts, director of national promotions
and segmentation for Cingular Wireless, the second-largest mobile
operator in the United States and a leading user of current data
technology tied in with the new Spider-Man movie.
several key industry players view the concept of movies on mobile phones
as far-fetched and unlikely to appeal to many consumers. Instead, they
believe the mobile space will create a new medium that can complement
movie theatres rather than provide a full-fledged alternative. Perhaps
we will see made-for-phone content that may be based on Hollywood movies
without actually being a phone-formatted version, as Andy Nulman,
president of Airborne Entertainment, suggests. Airborne is a Canadian
company that produces PocketBoxOffice.
Or perhaps the mobile
medium will become like DVD's these days, offering additional
scenes and alternative endings, as James Robinson, the movie director
("Still Breathing") and president of Cinema Electric,
suggests. Cinema Electric is a Hollywood-based company behind a service
called PocketCinema that delivers EMS and MMS clips of short films on
adventure sports (Le Mans race), the F16 fighter pilot and even pinup
"You don't want to see Star Wars on a small
screen, but a big screen," says Nulman. Adds Robinson: "The
Hollywood conventional wisdom is that when my phone looks like a TV,
then it will be like TV. We reject that thinking."
question, of course, is what the price would be for movies and trailers.
Even if they were to be offered for free thanks to advertisement, the
user would still have to pay data transfer fees. And they could be quite
significant, Robinson says. To watch a one-minute streaming video costs
between $1 and $2, whereas short movies of the type Cinema Electric has
produced can cost as little as 12 cents on SK Telecom, the Korean
operator that is one of its clients.
The other key question is
whether a consumer wants to spend 90 minutes watching a movie on a
phone. Dann Wilkens, a spokesman for PacketVideo, a California
technology company that works with such studios as Warner and Vivendi
Universal, believes trailers rather than movies will appeal to
consumers. “We’re not going to substitute for a movie theater, but get
you to that movie theater," he says. Kanakaris disagrees.
"Trailers are great [but] one of the mistakes studios make is to
think that people only want to watch trailers," he says.
Spotlight on Wireless
all major Hollywood studios have either created separate mobile
divisions or boosted the mobile focus of marketing divisions. Part of
the reason for the growing attention is the emergence of color-screen
phones. "There's the perfect target device for movies,"
says Anthony Stonefield, chief strategy officer of Moviso, a mobile
media content company owned by Vivendi Universal Net USA.
the new focus is also the result of two other factors: 1) the huge
revenue potential presented by the mobile medium and 2) the fact that
ignorance isn't necessarily bliss. Having no policy may lead to
another Napster-like scenario.
One major challenge for the
studios is the potential for piracy. Many handsets don't come with
Digital Rights Management (DRM). "It's pretty bad. In excess
of a third of new showcase handsets forgot DRM," says Stonefield.
Ilkka Raiskinen, vice president of mobile applications and services at
Nokia Mobile Phones says DRM is "extremely important" for
agreements with content providers like Hollywood studios.
Kanakaris believes the main value of DRM is to provide a way
for Hollywood studios to feel more comfortable about digital
distribution rather than providing actual technical restrictions on
copyright violations. On the other hand, mobile networks offer more
accountability and less anonymity than the fixed Internet, while also
being considerably more expensive, Stonefield points out.
relationship between the Hollywood studios and the telecom sector is
quickly becoming big business. Knox Bricken, a senior analyst at the
Yankee Group, estimates that U.S. operators alone will generate $1.1
billion by 2005 from movies, movie trailers, ringtones, graphics and
games. That compares with $214 million today.
appears to be no specific geographical differences in how producers and
Hollywood studios co-brand. "Branding does not change regionally -
the scope of co-operation may vary," says Raiskinen at Nokia.
While Hollywood studios generally see deals with phone
producers as key in such markets as Europe and Asia, they view operators
as the key for the U.S. market, according to Stonefield. "In Europe
it's a media or handset play, whereas in North America it's an
operator play," he says.
Ironically, a leading player in
the movie-wireless segment, Riot Entertainment (Riot-E), filed for
bankruptcy in March, just as the movie-mobile industry was picking up.
The company, partly owned by Nokia Ventures, had SMS, WAP and 3G
licenses for Lord of the Rings, X-Men and Bridget Jones Diary and
boasted such clients as T-Motion and Eircell Vodafone. It is unclear
what impact the bankruptcy will have. But the closing of the Finnish
company will likely benefit other key players in the content area.
Meanwhile, movie fanatics everywhere can take advantage of
current movie tie-ins through the mobile space. Club Nokia members, for
example, are now able to download Star Wars-related graphics, ring
tones, MMS services and games developed in cooperation with LucasArts, a
subsidiary of Star Wars producer Lucasfilm. At the same time, Nokia is
offering Star Wars-themed phone covers for the Nokia 3410, 3510 and 3300
series. Club Nokia has no plans yet to include actual movie downloads,
according to Raiskinen.
The Star Wars-Nokia campaign coincides
with another major movie-phone tie-in. Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man, which
is competing with Star Wars in terms of popularity at the box office,
includes a product placement by Nokia and a tie-in with Cingular
Wireless. An aggressive U.S. media campaign promotes the movie as well
as Cingular's services in what the carrier itself claims is the
most ambitious movie tie-in ever by a U.S. wireless operator. In
addition to ringtones and graphics, the campaign also introduced three
faceplates that fit the new Ericsson T60 and T61z wireless
Some analysts believe the campaign may help attract a
significant number of new users to the wireless web in the United
States. "We have been inundated with positive feedback," says
Roberts. "Consumers of all ages liked how we used Spider-Man to
deliver our promotional message."
movie ties aren’t limited to Spider-Man. In March, the company unveiled
the Z700, a Java-enabled handset with games from the Sony movies Men in
Black and Charlie's Angels. But it appears that Nokia is by far the
most aggressive in terms of movie tie-ins.
In February, Club
Nokia announced an agreement with Universal Studios covering more than
100 of Universal's top film and television titles and franchises,
including The Mummy, The Jurassic Park Trilogy and Back to the Future.
Nokia also had a similar tie-in in August last year with Planet of the
Apes after reaching an agreement with 20th Century Fox.
Cingular is not the only U.S. operator with movie tie-ins. In November,
Sprint PCS started offering games related to Disney movies like Monsters
and Atlantis, while AT&T Wireless in December started offering
graphics and ringtones related to various Disney movies.
current offers show that there is a significant market already for
movie-related content in the mobile space. So, while 3G will undoubtedly
add to possibilities, the mobile phone industry and Hollywood can
already take advantage of today's technology. As Nulman says:
"Right now talking about 3G is equivalent to talking about
populating the moon. It will happen one day, but there are a lot of
things we have to get through before that time."
Joachim Bamrud is an award-winning journalist with 17 years
experience as a writer and editor in the United States, Europe and
Latin America. Bamrud has worked for various print, broadcast and
online media, including Latin Trade, Reuters and UPI.