Fast-forward to the present. Sprint has broadcast a live Bon Jovi concert. Sprint and Verizon Wireless are selling music downloadable to the cellphone.
And MTV, unfettered after its original contract expired, is implementing a strategy covering what is essentially content-to-go. MTV is parsing out its properties, signing deals with Virgin Mobile for some content, but also with Virgin's upstart competitor Amp'd Mobile, Verizon's VCast and Sprint.
"Our main goal is the ubiquitous reach of our content across the board, in every form and on every platform," says Greg Clayman, VP-wireless strategy and operations at MTV Networks. "We have done our research, and [our viewers] are on cellphones."
Welcome to the brave new dance among media companies, wireless service providers and marketers over content-to-go. It's a new realm of advertising, sponsorship and branded-content opportunity for all participants, with the destination being that "third screen" the consumer carries in her pocket. The device she previously used simply as a telephone. And content-to-go even reaches beyond the phone, with the arrival of the video iPod.
"The dam has broken open," says Howard Handler, chief marketing officer at Virgin Mobile. "We are in a period of extraordinary experimentation."
Robin Chan, associate director-entertainment programming for Verizon Wireless, sees it this way: "Video is very, very hot, and that is not going to abate because the technology is here, the growth is here and the revenue is here. That didn't exist 18 months ago."
HOLDING OFF ... FOR NOW
Most marketers with money to spend on new-media venues are holding off for now on using the third screen. One pioneer is DaimlerChrysler's Jeep, which in 2005 started running ads on 18 of MobiTV's cellphone channels and also debuted its own Jeep-branded channel.
For the most part, however, advertising on the third screen has been limited to ads shown on live TV newscasts, and to a handful of marketers taking a gander at the new medium, primarily through bumper ads at the top and bottom of the screen.
But soon that will change. The wireless carriers and content providers are jockeying to be the main conduit for sponsorship and advertising, with the networks and established providers laying claim to the marketing relationship. Newer niche carriers are also looking for content and marketers to support them.
Ever since the dot-com boom there's been talk of consumers watching video on their mobile phones. Still, the prevailing wisdom was that talk was, in fact, the killer app for the cellphone.
But new technology is chipping at that assumption. About 3 million U.S. consumers currently watch TV on cellphones, and that's expected to grow to 15 million-30 million by 2009. Globally, it's been forecast that 250 million mobile subscribers will be watching TV by 2010.
"With more robust phones, we've really got a way to leverage this. We finally have the devices that actually execute," said Dave Whetstone, chief marketing officer of MobiTV.
Now, not only are the networks-both the TV kind and the wireless service provider kind-looking to provide content for the cellphone, but so are Google and Yahoo, and even new some companies that consumers soon will be hearing about. Modeo, for instance, will broadcast content to handsets over a new technology that promises to be superior to current cellphone systems.
Content is starting to align with carriers and others such as Apple Computer, which is collecting shows for its iPod video player and may have designs on a mobile phone. Cable TV companies are looking to put their content on mobile phone services they will be introducing as part of their multiple service offerings.
Deals so far include big-buck exclusives such as Sprint's agreement for rights to NFL content along with sponsorship of the Super Bowl's halftime TV program. Other content deals generally are based on the number of subscribers a wireless service provides, or sometimes on the number of downloads, dealmakers say. Occasionally, it involves a licensing fee paid to the content providers from the carriers.
Even as lucrative deals are starting to pop up, there's no set way yet to charge carriers, advertisers and sponsors-or consumers-for content-to-go. "I don't think the pricing model has been figured out completely," says Virgin Mobile's Mr. Handler.
Question marks-and opinions-abound. MobiTV's Mr. Whetstone sees live content as the way to go. Salil Dalvi, VP-digital media and wireless at NBC Universal, wants to tap the third screen's location-based and interactive capabilities that offer media companies, wireless providers and marketers more opportunities than traditional TV. "There are more social applications," he says, like through linking up with TV programming from his company.
And how long should content-to-go programs be? Short, says Verizon's Mr. Chan, who calls it "snack" entertainment. "We are looking at the buffet model," he says.
Ultimately, Mr. Dalvi's modest goal is "We want to distribute content wherever the consumer wants it. We want our programming to be everywhere."
Some media buyers are less ebullient. "TV is a part of [the mobile revolution], but not a big part of it right now," says Brad Adgate, senior VP-director of research at Horizon Media, New York. Like many in the business, he believes content-to-go is primarily for individuals who "want to kill time waiting for the bus. It will not compete with TV in the foreseeable future. It will complement TV more than compete with it."
A see change
After TV and PC comes the "third screen," the one on your cellphone and your iPod.
Here are some of the mobile carriers and the video content they provide ...
Apple Computer’s iTunes, for viewing on iPod: ABC, NBC, movie trailers.
Verizon Wireless’ VCast: Some 300 channels offering video clips of sports, weather, Nascar and NBA highlights and mobisodes such as Fox’s "24," as well as content from ABC, CBS.
Sprint: Almost three dozen channels with content branded Sprint TV Live, MobiTV; programs include NFL, Nascar.
Cingular: MobiTV and HBO.
Mobile ESPN: Short-form sports programming on mobile video. Sponsors include Cisco Systems, Hilton Hotels, Nike, Visa, General Motors, Molson Coors.
Disney Mobile: Launches in 2006.
T-Mobile: Plans to start offering video service in 2007.
Note: MobiTV provides carriers with mobile programming such as ABC News to Go.
Sources: Advertising Age, individual carriers