Friday, August 11, 2006

Small Screens

Matt Dentler, whose blog I always like, makes one of his most interesting posts today about the popularity of small screens - watching video on cellphones, etc. According to a recent article in the LA Times, a survey showed that not a lot of teens and young adults were interested in watching such content on their phones - which, theoretically, means that all of the companies making their content available in this fashion may have an uphill battle getting consumers to adopt this form of consumption. As teens/young adults are supposed to be early adopters, and are a major target demographic, the article presupposes that we have something to learn from this response.

Dentler points out, quite correctly, that early adopters are usually from an even younger demographic. His story puts it best:

Another personal anecdote: one of the biggest fans I know of video iPod content is Harper Cummings. Harper Cummings is 3 years old. When on trips with her family, Harper loves to watch episodes of Dora the Explorer, downloaded to the video iPod. You have to think that by the time Harper is 13 years old, her and her friends will have much greater comfort and ease with greater and greater resources of mobile video material. That's why Apple, Viacom, News Corp. and Nokia are buying up real estate in this industry of short-form, digital video. Because not today and not tomorrow, but by the time Harper Cummings is earning spare cash waiting tables at Chuy's, this stuff will be everywhere. So, while I have nothing but respect for the polling of the L.A. Times and Bloomberg... maybe they should try asking around at the elementary schools, for a more accurate picture.

Dentler is quite correct - the elementary set are much more the demographic. But I think the study and the article are flawed in numerous other ways. For one, a lot of this content can get expensive, so I actually know more adults who watch videos on iPods than teens. Yes, teens buy music, but music has more of a hip cachet still, and it's easier to listen (say, when driving, every teen's favorite activity) than to watch. Second, while we've known this type of stuff was coming since 1992 (or earlier), the idea of watching on a small screen is still very new to most people - most never thought about it until they saw the video ipod. Even for teens, there hasn't been enough time, or good content for a good price, to really drive change. It took awhile for big screen tv's and HD to catch on as well.

But, even more, the writer misses the latent potential which will soon be realized when people can more easily watch intermittently and wirelessly. Some people undoubtedly do this already in some fashion, but pretty soon, we'll all be able to start watching content at home on the big screen, pause the film, start watching it at the same position on your cellphone from the subway, and then finish the film at the office. Or start watching something wirelessly downloaded to your cell and finish at home....etc. Not everyone will want to watch a feature film this way, but some will. I would, if it wasn't a masterpiece, but something I just wanted to entertain me. It will also be used for tv shows, news, personal video, how-to video, etc. This will all start to happen, but companies are taking baby steps in getting there (largely because of rights issues, but that's another post).

The idea that people won't eventually make money from this is ridiculous. And smart filmmakers should already be thinking about this in designing their films, trailers, etc.

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