The New Movie Marketplace

Portable media players spawn a wave of video downloads

Envisioning an era where people turn to televisions, not portable video players, to watch their favorite shows, music videos, and newscasts, Apple Computer opened its online video store last October, ushering in a new age for mobile video content providers.

Later that month, Apple announced that more than 1 million Pixar short films, Disney Channel shows, and episodes of Lost and Desperate Housewives had sold through its iTunes store, supporting the firm’s belief that portable video could very well create the new movie and television marketplace.

The progression is natural and driven largely by consumer demand, according to Jeff Oscodar, president and CEO of San Francisco-based HandHeld Entertainment, which sells ZVUE MP4 portable media players.

“Consumers want to watch content where and when they want to,” says Oscodar, who compares the trend to the shift from movie theaters to home theaters. “Entertainment firms and device makers are simply following those wants and needs.”

One American icon already cashing in on the portable video content movement is Major League Baseball, which makes games and other event coverage available to fans for download. “One of my favorite activities is going to MLB.com, downloading the previous night’s game and watching it on my Samsung YP-T8 portable media player during my downtime,” says Matt Durgin, product manager for digital audio at Ridgefield Park, New Jersey-based Samsung Electronics America.

Expect more content providers to jump into the fray, as everyone from news producers to independent filmmakers to amateur video buffs taps this emerging outlet. “Every movie, TV, and cable studio is going to jump on it,” predicts Gregg Steiner, owner of Your Gadget Guru.com, a Los Angeles-based home technology, consultancy, and training firm.

For those providers, the opportunities are both vast and compelling, since producing content itself has historically been much easier than packaging and distributing it, says Robin Chan, associate director of entertainment programming at Bedminster, New Jersey-based Verizon Wireless, whose V CAST service offers video clips, music videos, and network content. “The validation of mobile video is the formation of an entirely new ecosystem,” says Chan.

As an increasing number of producers release their content, Chan says more consumers will purchase the transportable devices to play on it.

But convincing consumers of the value of plugging in a pair of earphones and poring over a tiny screen may not be easy, says Brad Greenspan, president of Los Angeles-based vidiLife. Television and movie watchers, for example, rarely have to deal with issues like low memory hard drive glitches, and frozen screens.

“These issues will present significant challenges for hardware makers and content providers,” says Greenspan, whose video hosting and social networking firm creates destination sites where people can share content. “They’ll need to get to a place where plug-and-play works just as seamlessly and flawlessly as TV.”

And, like any new technology, portable video begs the “chicken or the egg” question. “Content creators won’t be super aggressive until a large consumer market has been demonstrated for these products,” says Durgin. “At the same time, technology providers and device manufacturers will have a hard

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