Content Providers Mine Mobile Opportunities

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New York-The proliferation of mobile-communications devices over the next few years will present enormous opportunities for content providers, according to a panel of cable executives here last week.

Motorola Inc., the parent of Motorola Broadband Communications Sector, plans to ship more than 1 billion mobile handsets alone over the next two years, said MBC president Ed Breen.

"The appetite for content over that device is going to be enormous," Breen said. "Almost all of that [content] is going to be Internet-based."

Most of the programmers on the panel, part of the Price WaterhouseCoopers 2000 Global Entertainment, Media & Communications Summit, saw the different delivery methods as means to repurpose existing content. But Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. president Josh Sapan warned that in order to be successful, content providers must offer consumers more than the same thing at a different time.

"I don't think you can move people from one platform to another," Sapan said. "You have to take your audience and find an incarnation of a different experience on a different platform."

Rainbow's strategy along those lines has been to make equity investments in Internet content providers, said Sapan. The most recent such deal involved iFilm Corp., an online portal for film buffs.

As part of that arrangement, iFilm will develop a TV series for Rainbow. The company will also provide content-like downloadable short films-that consumers can't find anywhere else.

CBS Internet Group president and CEO Russell Pillar said investment in Web content providers has been CBS' tack as well.

So far, Pillar said, CBS Internet has made investments in two dozen independent Web companies, with more likely to come. It has taken large minority stakes in these outfits, an average of 35 percent to 40 percent of total equity.

The increase in the number of delivery vehicles also will affect the kinds of content that will be available.

In a separate panel, Excite-@Home chairman and CEO George Bell-prior to announcing last week that he plans to shed his CEO title once a successor is found-said new-media vehicles would affect how consumers understand content.

"We have to rethink the fundamental terminology of content," Bell said. "To date, traditional proprietary content has not been part of the distinctiveness of value for consumers."

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