Wireless carriers expand entertainment offerings

Troy Wolverton
San Jose Mercury News

Cell phones are morphing into all-in-one media devices, but that doesn't mean they're entertaining consumers.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Verizon is in talks with YouTube to bring user-submitted videos from the Web service to Verizon's wireless customers. The move would follow similar ones by Sprint-Nextel and Cingular to offer video, music and games to their wireless customers.

But do people want to watch?

"The phone remains primarily for voice communication. All these other things are secondary features," said Michael Gartenberg, research director at Jupiter Research in New York. As for video in particular, he added, "Consumers consistently tell us that while they are interested in these services, they're not willing to pay a whole lot of money for them."

The wireless providers are among a growing number of players trying to jump into the market for providing portable video.

Apple Computer, for instance, sells TV shows and movies that consumers can watch on video-playing versions of its iPod music player. Sony's PlayStation Portable game device plays movies. Dish Networks is offering a portable player that downloads content from customers' digital video recorders.

For their part, the wireless providers are banking on revenue generated from providing video and other entertainment and data offerings to make up for declining revenue from simple voice services. Over the last several years, Sprint, Verizon and Cingular have been gradually building up their video and other entertainment offerings.

And in pursuing the portable media market they've got some built-in advantages over other competitors.

Cell phones tend to be cheaper than other consumer gadgets, because the wireless carriers typically sell them at or below cost, figuring they'll make up the difference with the services they sell consumers. Unlike many rival portable devices, cell phones by their nature are connected to a network, meaning that it's theoretically easy to get new content on the devices. And, perhaps most importantly, they're nearly ubiquitous these days.

"We've all come to the conclusion that the market wants a portable device for consuming media," said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, a San Jose-based technology consulting firm. "A phone that could do all that stuff could force all the other dedicated devices out of market."

But as Enderle and others note, cell phones leave a lot to be desired as entertainment devices.

Part of the problem has to do with the compromises inherent in watching video on a cell phone. Consumers tend to want to watch video on the biggest screen possible. But it's hard to meet that expectation when, at the same time, consumers have been demanding smaller and lighter handsets. Not only do big screens require a lot of room, but they also eat up battery power.

And then there's the problem with how to get video on to cell phones. While the carriers are continually upgrading their networks, service can still be spotty in places. Considering that most phones these days have little if any storage space, carriers are typically streaming videos to consumers. But with a poor connection that can result in a choppy viewing experience - if customers can get to the video at all.

"This may be a case where the device's limitations overcome the advantages," said Enderle. "That all-in-one ideal device may simply be beyond our grasp right now."

To be sure, analysts don't argue that video on cell phones is doomed to failure. In fact, the short clips that are available on YouTube may prove popular among cell phone users who are looking for a quick diversion, they say.

Just don't expect consumers to replace their big-screen TV or even their video iPods with a video-playing cell phone anytime soon.

"It may become some sort of standard feature, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's where consumers will first go to get video," said Chris Crotty, senior consumer electronics analyst at iSuppli.





12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.