Programmers Ready to Go Mobile

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In an effort to extend the reach of their content and brands, several basic-cable networks are offering vignettes of original programs for Internet download to personal media players.

Scripps Media Group, NBC Universal and Fox Sports have licensed a plethora of original content to Microsoft Corp. for distribution via its MSN Video Downloads online service.

Subscribers to Microsoft’s premium $19.95-per-year service, launched this month, can select cable content as well as non-cable movies, children’s programming and music videos from the MSN Video Downloads Web site (www.msnvideodownloads.com).

WMP 10 ON PMC

Users can then download the content via computer, using Microsoft’s Windows Media Player 10 software, to Portable Media Centers — palm-sized Windows Media-compatible video players that can hold 20 Gb worth of video, music and picture files, Microsoft Windows Mobile group product manager Jason Gordon said.

Other cable networks like MTV: Music Television, Comedy Central and VH1 offer free content for PMC as well, he added.

For participating cable networks, the agreement lets on-the-go consumers access their content at leisure.

With more than 34 million homes wired for the high-speed Internet — and with improvements in broadband video — network executives say the traditional cable-based distribution formula is rapidly changing.

Combine that with the growth of video on demand, which gives consumers control over how and when they watch programs, and executives say it’s important to try to reach viewers through as many platforms as possible.

“We can no longer assume that people are going home at night just to watch TV served up on a limited basis,” Scripps Media senior vice president of emerging media Channing Dawson said. “We think we should be on as many platforms as we can, so that we can learn what the future of media is.”

Scripps is offering Microsoft 120 short-form titles a month from Fine Living, Food, Do It Yourself Network and Home & Garden Television, ranging from the virtues of mulch in the garden to a video recipe for lobster stuffed with French Bleu.

Microsoft would not disclose how many hits it gets on the MSN Video Downloads site, or how many of the roughly $500 Portable Media Centers are currently in the market.

But Gordon said the platform is where music downloads were five years ago — it’s an emerging business that’s poised to explode as more consumers are exposed to its convenience and flexibility.

Video downloads of well-branded cable content will help propel the category, he added.

“We always talked about how important video content is and we see it as being a key to really enabling people to be entertained and not have to go through a bunch of loops to get programming on their devices,” Gordon said.

“We’re really at the cutting edge of enabling content providers to get their shows and channels out to the masses in different ways that have different functionality for people on the go.”

Network executives say short clips of news and information content seems to be the most desirable content for the platform.

“This type of video is fine in short spurts — it’s not complex storytelling,” NBC Universal cable president Jeff Gaspin said.

CNBC and MSNBC both offer daily clips from their various news shows as part of the MSN Video Downloads service. “You can watch CNBC on a two-inch screen or a 20-inch screen and still get the same enjoyment from it,” he said.

Added John Smelzer, vice president of business development for Fox Sports Interactive Media: “Consuming long-form content on a small device is still not a good experience. It’s a natural fit to produce this short, digested, get-to-the-sweet spot kind of content.”

'VIDEO SNACKING’

For FSN, that means fresh interviews and specialty programming from the day’s sports events, originating from the 12 Fox Sports owned-and-operated regional sports networks, above and beyond the free content already provided to MSN.com.

“It’s sort of like video snacking — you’re on the go and you have a little window of time you want to get a quick digest of a bigger programming,” Smelzer said.

“What the PMC gives us an opportunity to do is provide a deeper, richer package than they might get if they just went to the [free] MSN video area.”

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