Mobisodic entertainment and a new frontier

Guest Post Christopher Hatton is a writer-producer based in Los Angeles and Singapore.  He is currently executive producer of the Sci-Fi Channel original movie “Phantom Racer.”  His company CinePede Productions has produced four made-for-mobile series.

It doesn’t take keen foresight to know that mobile television is the next big thing.  Consider how quickly we went from no mobile phones to global penetration in the billions.  From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to phone games, cameras, web surfing and video conferencing – and you can do it all at the beach!  In the loo!  It’s geektastic!  Of course we’ll all be watching television on our phones.

Some of us already are.  Some of us are producing content for them.

But it’s still early days and it’s not for nothing they’re being compared to the Wild West.  Everybody’s rushing to the new frontier, and while it isn’t exactly lawless, it is chaotic and the rules are being written on the fly.  Just because we know where we’re going, doesn’t mean we know the best way to get there.  Or what will work when we do.

Mobile video has its own set of challenges.  At first it was technical limitations.  The handsets could only handle about a minute’s worth of downloaded material.  And streaming was great, but only if you were into content with a distinctly Cubist presentation.  Most of the kinks have been worked out and now the end-user experience is pretty good.

This puts the creative challenges of mobile video front and center.  So far the arena has been dominated by silly home videos at one end and repurposed television content at the other, probably neither of which is ideal.  Do you really want to watch the latest episode of “Battlestar Galactica” on your phone when you can see it on HD with surround sound at home?

As producers we have to keep in mind that mobile television is different from regular TV and web-based content.  Our venue is small and constantly on the move.  Mobisodes are viewed while riding the bus, waiting for meetings, or in between classes.  Our content has to neatly fit in that limited mind space and still be compelling enough to bring the viewer back for more.  Eventually, somebody will create the first mobile blockbuster, and then the rush will really begin.  Until then, we’re all staking our claims and hoping to hit pay dirt.

Like web content, mobile television has the potential to be an excellent development platform.  A place where you can try out new concepts on fairly small budgets while building a viewer base and – theoretically – generating revenue.  You might just make the case for spinning up to television or a feature.  But lest it sound too good to be true, it’s important to look at some harsh realities, because also like the web, mobile video is no “Field Of Dreams.”  Just because you post it, doesn’t mean they’ll come.

It’s easy to be seduced by the idea of all those hundreds of millions of handsets out there and the nice sounding ring of “revenue share.”  But right now very few independent producers are earning meaningful revenue from mobile television.  From a certain perspective, this is also true of the studios and broadcasters producing spin-offs of hit series.  For them it’s a marketing exercise.  They’re able to promote their brand while “claiming space” in this new arena, biding time for when it inevitably becomes a revenue monster.  Meanwhile, the “little guy” is fighting against the goliath conglomerates for their tiny corner of it all.

Then there are the aggregators who are all too happy to represent your product at a 50-50 rev-share – with no minimum guarantee – which they will then provide to a telcom for a 60-40 rev-share.  By the time the producer gets their piece, it’s pretty small.  (And if you’re still thinking about all those handsets out there, just remember that right now most of them still have limited or no video capabilities.)  Web-based portals provide a platform where the producer can appeal directly to the buyer.  But then we’re back to the Field Of Dreams dilemma.  How do you get the eyeballs?  The end-user won’t find your product unless you market to them, which gets expensive very quickly.

All of a sudden our new frontier seems an awful lot like the old one.

But that’s just today.  As quickly as things have been changing, we can only guess what the landscape will look like tomorrow.  Meanwhile, we can be certain that mobile television is the next big thing.  And for writers and actors and film crews that means one more place to do what we do.

That can only be good.