UK video mobile network 3 has hit upon a similar strategy. 3's Critters are developed by Meme Digital, and are intended to express the network's brand personality. The Critters feature on the 3 website, where they star in games and their own animations, and also appear in adverts for 'We like play' music and video service. 3 recently announced that the Critters would be sponsoring MSN messenger as a means to extend the brand.
Celmates is a good example of a creative company taking advantage of the sudden demand for creative content. It is an art licensing company with a difference; the power to make its images move. Its founder, Daniel Cohen, is an ex-Disney animator who used to work at the studio that produced hits like Hercules and Mulan. When the studio was closed, Daniel made a trip to the Brand Licensing show in London and saw that he and his associates had the assets to make an impact in licensing. After exhibiting at Licensing International for the first time last year, Celmates received a lot of attention, especially (and unexpectedly) from mobile phone companies. 'People recognised that we had these great characters, and that we could make them move to specification,' says Daniel. As a result, Celmates has supplied moving images to companies like Cingular Wireless, Motorola, Samsung, Rogers (Canada) and Virgin (UK), and 'every tenth phone call is about mobile content.' Daniel believes that 'a high tide lifts all ships,' and that we will see independent companies such as his developing more and more content to be licensed to networks. Celmates is currently developing 'mobisodes' (or mobile episodes) for a French mobile company, and Daniel is looking forward to creating more content; 'the only constraint will be the technology and the brain of the handsets.'
Technology is the most important factor if the industry is to develop much beyond animated ring-tones and short clips. The mobile industry dreams that eventually people will be watching Eastenders on the bus, but that scenario seems a long way off. 'The average mobile consumer is still only interested in phoning and texting. As a licensor, how much can you get out of a text message?' asks Graham Brown.
In Japan and Korea 'mobisodes' have been popular, but the demand for these is confined to 'early-adopters' who like the novelty of new technology. 'For made-for-mobile content to really take-off, the technology needs to be made available to everyone,' says Graham. 'Now we have a Catch 22 situation. Properties won't be delivered until they can be reached by everyone, but consumers won't want to use it until the content is there.'
Claire Tavernier of Fremantle concurs. 'I don't think there is any real pull from consumers for content yet; people are still playing around with the latest developments. One thing that will make the transition easier is branded content; taking a brand people know and love and creating new media from there.'
Just as Sky television needed Premiership football to sell its service, the mobile industry needs established branded content to sell itself. Many current developments in mobile content rely on existing brands and the extension of existing media concepts. Claire says, 'I think the real strength of mobiles is the one-on-one interaction, so I believe interactive video-based quiz shows and things of that nature work best.' For example, Fremantle's big focus at the moment is developing interactive content to tie in with the second series of X-Factor.
While the conversion of existing entertainment brands and formats continues to help introduce people to the idea of mobile content, in the long term we are likely to see a change in the way people think about mobile entertainment. At the moment people still think of a mobile phone as an extension of old media; a TV, DVD player, phone and MP3 player all rolled into one. 'What we should be asking is: where is the value that mobile can bring?' says Graham Brown. In the early days of the internet, for example, many thought of web content as a sort of two-dimensional magazine. Now web pages are multi-faceted and complex, and exist separately from traditional media. 'The future lies in doing more than simply reformatting an existing property. Mobile media should be, and will be, an entity in itself.'
The licensing of independently created content is likely to have a large part to play in this. Claire Tavernier says, 'Mobile is certainly becoming a major content distribution platform, but it will take time to develop.'
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