Notebook, 1993-


For Tiny Screens, Some Big Dreams

By Lorne Manly
Published: May 21, 2006. NYTimes

SAN MATEO, Calif. - "Content is just a means to an end, so there's something to talk about," he said. In other words, social connection trumps all . . . . Mr. Hawkins, 52, was employee No. 68 at Apple Computer before he left that company in 1982 to start Electronic Arts, now the pre-eminent video game maker. . . . . Accordingly, Digital Chocolate's creations appear decidedly low-tech, the easiest-to-use games possible without fancy graphics or elaborate storytelling . . . . In this interactive sports game show, which costs $2.99 a month, people can compete against friends by predicting outcomes of sporting events,

That resulting connection, that social interaction, can be much more lucrative than costly, classic content, in Mr. Hawkins's estimation. The first big mobile hit will be a completely original creation, he contends. "If you're going to really establish something as a new medium, you can't do that with content that is derivative and a second-class version of another medium," Mr. Hawkins said.

Needless to say, plenty of entertainment and media companies do not share that pointed opinion. From Hollywood to the Bristol, Conn., campus of ESPN, companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to adapt their current brands in television, movies, games and news and information to the tiny screens of mobile phones, and creating new programming.The creative team behind "Lost" on ABC plans to produce video diary segments, two to three minutes long, for cellphones. CBS is pushing ahead with a made-for-mobile soap opera. Last week, HBO's "Entourage" began shooting mini mobile episodes focusing on the exploits of two of its characters, Turtle and Johnny Drama. And NBC is creating casual games based on the fractured, deadpan humor of "The Office"; they will be available this summer . . .

Digital Chocolate's summer release, The Hook-Up: Ava Flirting, allows players to create an avatar, an image representing the user in a virtual reality, and interact with others' avatars, in a PG-13 setting. People willing to spend $2.99 a month can decide everything from their avatar's hair color to shoe choice and then socialize in settings ranging from a hip nightclub to a library. Then they can compare notes with friends about their adventures. There is also the potential, if the two avatars hit it off and are willing, to exchange text messages and perhaps meet in real life. . . . .

As with many early efforts in a burgeoning medium, the first mobile shows and games borrow more from the past than truly inhabit their new homes. . . .

. . . . they have learned some tricks of the trade. Wide-angle shots are to be avoided, while slow-motion clips are to be welcomed. The sweet spot for video clips appears to be between 45 and 75 seconds. Short clips of confrontational conversations, like the big finish on the talk show "Pardon the Interruption," are popular, and the network's hosts and guests can satiate users' hunger by providing punchy, informal commentary that they do not have time to deliver on the air. . . . .

All content providers face an unclear business model, with subscriptions, à la carte sales and ad-supported free models jockeying for position. They also have to deal with carriers who have different technical specifications and provide, in effect, the world's smallest retail mall because of the tiny nature of their phones' screens. And they must figure out the role that user-generated content will play in the mix. "We don't know the secret formula, and it's not going to be something that will be divined by sitting in a room and thinking about it." (John R. Burbank, vice president for marketing at Cingular Wireless)

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Digital Chocolate is a developer of games and applications for mobile phones. Based in San Mateo, California, Digital Chocolate offers many of the world's most popular games including Scarlotti's Mafia Wars 2, Mobile League WordJong, Bubble Ducky, and Johnny Crash. Digital Chocolate products are available through more than 200 operator and distribution partners, including Cingular, Orange, Sprint, T-Mobile, 3, Verizon Wireless, and Vodafone in over 60 countries worldwide.



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