The Biz: 'Vibe,' 'Blender' can now dial in content

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Forget the web, magazines are looking to wireless as the next great technological frontier. Publishers with titles that reach young, hip audiences are offering readers everything from ring tones to gossip to reviews, all delivered via cellphone.

Vibe, part of Vibe/Spin Ventures, has created a unit dedicated to producing and recreating magazine content for cellphone users. Subscribers, who pay $2.99 a month, can download photos of Ja Rule at last night's music-industry parties, instant music reviews, bite-size bits of features or Vibe-endorsed ring tones.

Peter Gaston, mobile editor and producer at Vibe/Spin, says the wireless category has "every music-content producer and publicist totally stoked." He added, "If you have Vibe on your cellphone, that is something that's very important to the youth market."

traction

"Wireless has definite traction in the U.S.," says Courtney Jane Acuff, manager and wireless expert at Publicis Groupe's Starcom IP. "Movie studios and record companies have gotten on the band wagon earlier than most. ESPN has also been a leader. They have developed a couple of new devices for the upcoming sports season."

Acuff predicts great growth for the wireless-download market. "In 2002, wireless downloads for an average month were about 235 million. In January 2003, they were a billion."

While the Vibe cellphone product borrows from the magazine, for obvious reasons the content has to be in an easily digestible, very short form. An average story length might run two or three paragraphs. The medium also demands a more informal approach; "Vibe Confidential," a gossip section, is just that. Another section, "Underground Buzz," draws attention to new artists.

Vibe has linked with Diggit Entertainment Group to package the content and deal with wireless carriers-a sometimes-daunting task, since not every wireless carrier has the same technological requirements. Vibe is partners with AT&T Wireless' mMode and Verizon Wireless' Get It Now service and is also working with Cingular. Bill Diggins, CEO of Diggit Entertainment says, "Mobile entertainment this year is worth a billion dollars. It is a massive growth market."

Vibe and Diggit launched their mobile product in December, but are just now beginning to aggressively promote the offering. Though executives won't reveal any initial subscription figures, Mr. Diggins says his target for subscribers is to reach 100,000 by year's end. The Internet won't be completely forgotten, however, as the wireless offering will also be accessible on the Web at a site that launched last week, mobile.vibe.com. Plans are also being formulated for regionally specific content and for a similar wireless offering for sister magazine Spin.

One of the biggest obstacles to growing the cellphone-content market, according to Vibe's executives, is not lack of customer interest but a lack of knowledge. Gaston says Fox's "American Idol" has been a boon for wireless operators in helping customers understand how to use it.

taking off

Dennis Publishing is also dipping its toe in the water. Barry Pincus, Dennis' director-corporate brand development, says, "We started on this a year ago, but the last couple of months wireless has really started to take off." He oversees wireless development for Dennis' men's title Maxim and music title Blender.

Pincus reports 700 downloads of Maxim wallpaper-photos of women-on the day it launched on Verizon in February. "Ultimately wireless will generate hundreds of thousands of dollars a year," he says.

"We already have content in the marketplace. Maxim has a darts game, billboard game and a bull-riding game. Blender is coming out with a music game and we're also coming out with beer reviews for Maxim in two to three months." Games rather than magazine content have been a big thrust of Dennis' wireless play, Pincus says, because "the technology in the U.S. limits what is feasible. There are also rights issues that need to be addressed. That's really a hold back."

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