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Launching mobile TV easier than it seems, Gorillabox CEO says

Mobile television has the potential to generate highly lucrative new revenue streams for broadcasters and operators. As more consumers across the globe snap up smartphones and other rich media-enabled types of handsets, it would seem inevitable that broadcasters and content providers might seek to extend their brands to the “third screen” by repurposing premium content for a mobile TV offering.

The challenge lies in actually getting such an offering off the ground. As the format wars over MediaFLO, DVB-H, T-DMB, A-VSB and other mobile TV technologies heat up across the globe, and the jury is still out as to whether consumers truly want to watch television on cell phones, many broadcasters, content providers and even operators are questioning the value of laying out thousands or millions of dollars for a mobile TV-capable infrastructure.

According to Gorillabox CEO Christian Harris, not only are consumers eager to watch video on cell screens, it’s also possible to deliver this service to them without a time- and budget-consuming infrastructure rebuild or hand-wringing about format decisions. He thinks that those looking to offer mobile TV should leave all of that to companies such as Gorillabox. The company, which launched this year, provides customers a fully managed mobile video service — from content ingestion to encoding, branding and advertising. He spoke with Mobile TV Update about why such a service could be a tempting option for content providers and broadcasters.

Mobile TV Update: Gorillabox provides fully managed mobile video services for its clients. Why do you think there is a need for this type of service now?

Christian Harris: There are several reasons. Number one, if you are a production company or a broadcaster and you want to push video or TV content out in any form other than the conventional broadcast format, there aren’t many ways to do that at the moment. A production company, for example, usually gets a commission, makes a program and then that program is broadcast on a terrestrial cable or satellite network. After that time, or during that time, there’s not much else they can do with those assets.

Second, individual program series are increasingly being viewed as brands in their own right, and when you think about a program as a brand, it should have its own online and mobile presence. We felt this was something that was not being done, or was not being done well at least, by anyone at this moment.

The third point is that increasingly companies, especially on the production and format side, are retaining some of their interactive rights to exploit [their assets], and are looking for ways in which to best exploit those rights. They may want to do merchandizing off the back of a program or create interactive services, for example. Because of this, they are looking for help with that challenge. That’s something we can offer them on mobile.

Mobile TV Update: What value do you see in offering these kinds of services on mobile devices?

Christian Harris: Consumers are very familiar with mobile, and it is already relied upon commercially for generating revenue through such basic services as text-based voting. Now, what broadcasters and production companies are increasingly looking at is streaming on the Web. We see [streaming video to mobile devices] as a perfect parallel offering to a Web-based streaming offering. In fact, quite a lot of the discussions that we’re having at this moment focus on this area, because it’s really exploding. We believe that we’re well placed to offer the mobile component of Web-based programs that are streamed over the Internet. Also, the benefit that mobile has over Web-based streaming is that when people view mobile content, they automatically expect to pay for it, because mobile is a paying environment.

Mobile TV Update: Gorillabox runs its own delivery technology called the G-box platform. How does this play into some of the points you’ve brought up so far?

Christian Harris: The principle behind it is that we can work with companies with no technical competencies whatsoever, so that means we do everything, from the ingestion of the content to its management, scheduling and billing. We can include advertising, whether its display, pre- or post-roll, within the content. We can manage the database of consumers that actually visit the site and either browse or buy on that site, and we also manage the discovery mechanism — the process of actually finding the mobile Internet site and being able to subsequently view it and browse within that site.

Mobile TV Update: How is this enabled on the Gorillabox end?

Christian Harris: We have streaming servers on our end and host the content on several different servers, which can handle large amounts of data. We also do all our own encoding, so we manage the process of identifying networks and handsets and streaming the appropriate content at the best possible quality that [the particular] handset [being streamed to] and network can allow. While we’re not responsible for the network side, we can work with the network presented to us and have developed a very flexible approach to how we make the content available on, for example, live streams and VOD-type applications. We have some unique technologies that allow us to provide the best possible user experience within the limitations of the handset and the network.

Mobile TV Update: What does a broadcaster or content provider need on his end to enable the service?

Christian Harris: They don’t need anything except content. They provide us with the content and we take care of everything else. What we aim to do is create a fully branded experience, so we would design and build the mobile into that site. We would work with them to present the content in a branded context within that site, so it’s a fully branded experience around the program and the concept. So, it’s more than just conventional streaming of individual streams; it’s a fully branded experience based on that program. It’s a way of helping them generate new forms of revenue through repurposed content.

Mobile TV Update: With the European Commission officially backing DVB-H as the mobile TV standard, why would broadcasters or content providers find the G-box platform attractive? What might it offer over a DVB-H-type network?

Christian Harris: The way we’re approaching it is to work with the most ubiquitous technology available, so were completely independent as far as the discussions about DVB-H or MediaFLO or any other type of technology that allows streamed content to be pushed out over wireless networks. We’ll work with whatever presents the best commercial opportunity for our clients. We’re completely agnostic, as far as the technology is concerned.

Mobile TV Update: So, you could incorporate a DVB-H or MediaFLO-type technology into a solution if the client asked you for it?

Christian Harris: We can certainly do that. We’ve met with QUALCOMM a couple of times, for example, and we’re very happy to engage in this and any other technologies that will pop up. I’m sure there will be others, and when they become mass market, we’ll treat them accordingly.

Mobile TV Update: Could you provide some examples of how a broadcaster or content provider might use the G-box to generate new forms of revenue?

Christian Harris: I can give an example related to an agreement we are hoping to sign soon, which will be our first substantial U.S. and UK deployment. It is based around a new sports format, which will be distributed on pay-per-view TV in the U.S. and cable TV in the UK. There will also be live events based around the format. In both cases they’ll promote the mobile service to the audience. When they do this, the consumers of that media will be able to access the mobile Internet site on their mobile phones, and from there they’ll be able to consume, see and pay for content that will be compatible for that individual handset on that network in other countries. So, that’s an excellent example of an ideal client, because not only do they have a good range of content which they can make available to be repurposed for mobile, but they also have access to an audience to whom they can promote that service in order to make it a success.

Mobile TV Update: Why does Gorillabox think it is important for content providers and broadcasters to have separate, branded online and mobile components?

Christian Harris: Because an increasing amount of revenue is generated and relied upon by broadcasters to be generated through mobile. The only issue is that they’re on a very basic level, so it might be text-message based voting, for example. What we’re proposing is something that is more interactive, and is good enough so that the consumer will go back and visit the site, even after the program is finished being broadcast. We’re really encouraging more of a dialogue with the consumer through the mobile, rather than just a simple mechanism like a competition or a vote or a poll of some description. These kinds of mechanisms have already been very successful commercially, but isn’t it time we moved on to something a bit more interesting?

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