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Paige Donner Headshot

Whatever Size The Screen

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People are asking these days, two weeks into the Writer's Strike, what is the landscape going to look like when this is over?

The general feeling is that the biz will still be the biz, just as the mountains are still the mountains even in this time of global warming, but the landscape will change, and in some areas will change so significantly, as to render it permanently altered.

Such is the case now in this formerly Hollywood-centric business which is quickly becoming global thanks largely to ubiquitous and increasingly more accessible distribution platforms.

Vinton Cerf, co-Founder of the Internet and currently Google's Chief Internet Evangelist, made a profoundly impacting statement recently, but he said it so unassumingly, that if you weren't paying close attention, you might have missed it...

Cerf said: The remaining approximately 5 billion people on earth who do not currently have ready access to the internet, will do so NOT via a computer but through a mobile device.

There are an estimated 3 billion cell phones in use today. In 2007, of the estimated 1,121 million units shipped, 114 million of those were Smart Phones, i.e. Internet capable. By 2011 those figures are predicted to be 1,403 total units shipped, 312 million of which will be Smart Phones.

Is it any wonder then all the attention that the GPhone, Google's answer to Apple's iPhone, is grabbing these days?

The Google Phone: It Can Do Everything!

That's Entertainment!...Whatever size the screen!

All kidding aside, as I sit here on the sidelines of the WGA strike and watch the signatory producers squirm while the writers go hungry - and simultaneously read about Google's release earlier this week of its Android Kit to help open source developers design an operating system platform to be used on multiple smart phone handsets - I can't help but wonder if parts of the landscape, after the fallout, will be peppered with mini-studios run by content producers/ writers programming specifically for mobile phones and/or larger screens.

If Google and its OHA (Open Handset Alliance) partners really make good on its goal of providing millions of people with Smart Phones, starting in mid-2008, that have the service charge of FREE! Then consider all the possible vistas of empty content canvases that writers and other people good at entertaining audiences en masse can congregate their content to. "Mobile users want the same applications on the phone as they use on the Internet," said Eric Schmidt as quoted in the LA Times article November 6th, "Google To Get Moving On Wireless."

So, now if content is king, then the mobile device - don't call it a phone! - will be the little engine that could and just might evolve into the King of Content Platforms... in the global arena, anyway.

This, however, begs the question of who will hold the keys to the treasury? Google has already stated that it intends to share advertising revenue generated by this service with its service providers. Current partners in this venture are Motorola Inc., Samsung, Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA. In the past, mobile providers have exercised control over what customers can do with their cell phones to the extent that they dictate which handsets work on their networks and which programs can be run on them.

E Marketer Inc. forecasts that today's $1.5 billion spent on revenue for ads on mobile phones will jump to $14 billion by 2011, according to the LA Times article, Nov. 6th, 2007. If content creators can get a slice of this ad revenue to fund Web productions, much like TV networks get a large portion of ad revenue today to fund their TV productions, then, certainly, the landscape will be awash in mini-studios potentially run by content creator/ writers producing shows for mobile personal computer devices - Smart Phones - for mass consumption.

Couple this with the imminent rollout of set-top boxes, such as SlingBox, and the like, that can wirelessly beam whatever content you can bring up on your mobile handset or computer screen to your, say, 50" hi-def LED wall-mounted screen monitor, and the possibilities are limitless.

The popularity of the iPod-like mini screen is not to be underestimated, however. Mothers have reported their fondness of watching segments of Sesame Street on these mini screens with their toddler Mini-Me's while waiting in dentist's offices, riding public transportation and other shared public activities. This alone caused Sesame Street to jump to #1 most downloaded free show from iTunes within a week of its September 18th launch. It held its #1 spot even two podcasts later. Parents loved the instant distraction the Sesame Street podcasts offered AND they also spoke fondly of the SHARED viewing experience with their kids. Both parent and child were more likely to watch a podcast together than a TV show where the child gets plunked down in front of the set while Mom or Dad makes dinner.

The US Telco's Bottleneck on this Bandwidth Fueled Internet Rocket Launch

The US, compared to our Asian and European counterparts, lags way behind in this industry Rocket Launch. Japan, Sweden, Hong Kong, South Korea, France all have much higher bandwidths than ours here in the US. A short and sweet explanation as to why this is so can be found in Wired's (November 2007) interview with James Murdoch - yes Rupert's son.

He stated that US Telcos have resisted "opening up the loop" to superfast broadband which makes all of this possible. A quick tutorial on any of these issues can be found by doing a search under Net Neutrality.

For the Sky Network young James runs in the UK, he is working with Google to bring Internet-style ad targeting to television. Part of the single set of services he offers his customer base is Satellite services for Hi-Def content such as live sports, IP-enabled set top boxes with big hard discs (think TIVO on jet fuel) and then Sky Anytime on Mobile. He also just signed a deal with Sony to provide their content on "all platforms" as well.

Does Murdoch (James, that is) see this as a threat to traditional TV? Threat!?! Said he, NO!, OPPORTUNITY, is what it is! He acknowledged that User-Generated content has become so mainstream already that Sky News mixes in on-the-scene clips from viewer's cell phones.

News and Sports according to him are the big winners in mobile phone content usage. Everyone thought it would be mobisodes and casual gaming but what seems to be really consumer addictive is the good old standbys of Sports and News. At least for people without toddlers.

Trends To Watch

Other trends Vinton Cerf highlighted: URLs will be written in characters other than Latin characters, that is, in Chinese, Cyrillic, Hebrew for example.

Cerf cited Big Opportunities to make information immediately accessible in real time. For example, if you are on vacation in the Sonoma Wine Country and would like to stop for dinner at a restaurant serving a particular vintner's Beaujolais Nouveau then you need only whip out your Smart Phone, type in a search, find some suggestions, type in those addresses to your GPS enabled or Map Search enabled device, and Voila', you have at your fingertips in real time exactly what it is you wanted.

Cerf called this "rich and unexplored territory." Why? Because these searches, these immediate wants and needs for information, will beg to be supported by advertising revenue. Or in I-speak, the Geo-Indexing of real time information will be monetized through advertising via access to the Internet.

And, in answer to those who fear a StarbucksGoogleNation, Cerf said, "We'd like to see the next Google happen. That's why nondiscrimination is important to us. We'd like to see someone compete."