The world's first cellphone soap

The launch of TV's first-ever soap for the tiny mobile phone screen might not suit everyone's taste, but it is a living proof the TV and digital worlds are merging.

    Phone operators expect to attract new users with the soaps

    With this convergence due to transform the average consumer's entertainment fix, a record number of mobile-phone operators - including heavy-hitters such as Vodafone, Nokia and Telefonica - turned up in large numbers at the international MiPTV and MILIA trade shows.

    Aside from ring tones and music, games, news and sports results are the current favourites of cell phone users, many of them children and younger adults.

    And now the race is on to attract new audiences, with the big strides achieved in video streaming to phones throwing up new opportunities.

    "The quality of content, like video, is improving as are the handsets. It's a step change in the level of service," Vodafone's Graham Ferguson told a forum in this Riviera town.

    The first soap-drama specifically made for mobile phones, called "Hotel Franklin," has just been launched by media giant News Corporation.

    The episodes last just one-minute because, said News Corp's Lucy Hood, this "seems to us to be the natural length" for phone viewers.

    Mobile phones have more uses
    than making and receivings calls

    That time frame allows for enough character development and plot before leaving a hook at the end to get viewers to look at the next episode.

    The hugely popular dysfunctional Simpson family characters star in another News Corp. initiative to tap into the big mobile phone market.

    Phone users can call up cute, short clips featuring The Simpsons with messages like "I'm tired" or "Happy Birthday" to send to their friends.

    Music treat

    Hit TV game shows such as "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" are also transferring to telephones, and a deal to license a Millionaire phone game, developed by Active media and an SMS mobile text version, was unveiled here this week.

    Movie lovers are also in for a treat. There has been a huge rise in the number of homes with broadband connections opening the way for video-on-demand services and on-demand television (IPTV).

    If you want, you can have Mick
    Jagger in the palm of your hand

    Japan's Softbank Broadmedia has led the way in video-on-demand and just a year after the service was launched, BB Cable TV subscribers can choose from a 2300-strong video library.

    A number of companies have followed in BB Cable's footsteps. The world's largest cable company, Comcast, offers a large selection of interactive video-on-demand products, which are proving popular with over 50% of its 23 cable subscribers. "We're getting lots of mileage out of video-on-demand," Comcast's Ty Ahmad-Taylor said here.

    Viewers appear to appreciate the ease of the system, which enables calling up a movie directly on the TV set, without having to leave home. The cost of the "rental" is either included in a subscription or automatically put onto the phone bill.

    The millionaire-studded principality of Monaco was one of the first in Europe to launch the VOD concept in Europe, but it is also available elsewhere, notable in Britain through Video Networks.

    Hooked up

    It might not be long now before all digital devices in the home, including the DVD, mobile phones, digital cameras and the brand-new digital video recorders known as DVRs are hooked up together

    The more optimistic market watchers believe it might not be long now before all digital devices in the home, including the DVD, mobile phones, digital cameras and the brand-new digital video recorders known as DVRs are hooked up together.

    If and when that happens, the PC could play the central link-up, upstaging the power of the television.

    With the number of remote controls that are scattered around many people's homes that might be a great step forward. But other experts are hedging their bets about how long this may take to happen, if it comes about at all.

    As one key speaker at MILIA, Joichi Ito, pointed out, "traditionally, the (content) industry has been wrong about how consumers use these devices."

    So, while there may be a lot of balls in the air, no one really knows for the moment which ones are going to stay up and which are going to fall.



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