‘The Simple Life’ Producer Goes Mobile

The folks behind some of the hottest reality TV show hits are going mobile. Television production house Bunim-Murray Productions has launched M Theory Entertainment, a mobile content division created to develop video content for viewing on cell phones, handheld devices, iPods, and PCs.

“It’s a natural outgrowth of a lot of things we’ve been doing already that have come in support of the shows that we produce,” explained Joey Carson, CEO of Bunim-Murray. The company began gravitating towards developing mobile content through its relationships with MTV and Fox; they started off by re-purposing cutting-room footage and eventually producing clips specifically with the Web and mobile devices in mind.

At this point, said Carson, advertising featured on M Theory’s mobile productions will remain primarily in the product-placement realm. Product placements are prevalent in the firm’s television productions, and advertisers selling consumer electronics and gaming products have expressed interest in extending those placements to M Theory’s mobile programming.

At this point, mobile content creators and distributors seem more focused on getting their programs in the hands of consumers than they are with designing ad placement opportunities.

“The short story is that we see very little advertising today on mobile,” observed Will Hodgman, CEO of mobile measurement firm, M:Metrics, who has an advertising agency pedigree. “There’s a good case to be made in that advertisers can underwrite the cost of content.” It’s not happening yet, he said, but “smart people will probably do this.”

Affirmed Carson, “It is a little bit of a wild west gold rush going on, and everybody’s trying to figure out what works and what makes money.”

In addition to developing original programming to be delivered through mobile content distributors Amp’d Mobile and Proteus, the Bunim-Murray wholly-owned subsidiary will adapt its existing TV content for Web and mobile access. M Theory will also continue producing the Fox’s “The Simple Life” “mobisodes” it distributes exclusively through Verizon V-Cast. The production outfit has also already shot 20 segments of BMX action show, “T.J.’s Tips and Tricks” and “The Real Mean Girls,” featuring Veronica Portillo and Rachel Robinson of MTV’s “Real World/Road Rules Challenge.”

Mobile video consumption is growing in popularity, but “is still relatively small,” according to M:Metrics’s Hodgman. A little over four million people watched mobile video in the U.S. last month, says Hodgman. Of the 183 million people in the states who have mobile phones, just two percent are consuming video.

With such a small audience, why have content producers, from TV networks like MTV and ABC, to new media outfits like Heavy.com been so eager to enter the wireless content world? “It comes back to the demographics,” concluded Hodgman, adding, “In terms of the consumption of content on mobile phones, it does skew to that wondrous epicenter of [ages] 13-34.” Indeed, he notes, mobile video consumption has increased about 10 percent each month on average.

In search of that audience, M Theory has also begun putting its stamp on the Web’s consumer generated video through six sites that are in development. For instance, its Hams.tv Web site allows people to upload homemade video footage of joke-tellers, pet tricks, sporting feats, and even yodeling, and then vote in real-time for the clips they like best. Hams.tv will be available soon through Amp’d Mobile, an M Theory distributor that sells cell phones in addition to subscriptions to content like movie trailers, animation, music, news, and 3D games.

The combination of consumer generated media and real-time mobile polling could be a good fit for M Theory, suggests Jaimee Minney, senior manager of corporate communications at M:Metrics. The research firm found that 3.2 million of U.S. mobile subscribers, or 1.7 percent, uploaded a video to the Web, and 7 percent of U.S. mobile subscribers, or 12.3 million, voted in a TV or radio poll in a month during the quarter ended January 2006. That compares with 21.8 percent of British mobile subscribers, or 8.9 million, who voted in a TV or radio poll in a month during the quarter ended January 2006.

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