Amp'd ramps up reach over wireless territory

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If there were any doubts that content matters in the mobile space, consider the subscriber statisics released Tuesday by Amp'd Mobile. Its average revenue per user is more than $100 per month, about twice the industry average, and half of that revenue is derived from its unique programming strategy.

As a mobile virtual network operator -- the industry term for a wireless company without a physical network or licensed spectrum -- Amp'd Mobile operates under its own brand name while leasing 3G-network capacity from Verizon Wireless.

But Amp'd's offerings doesn't end at traditional wireless services such as voice and text. The company, which houses a fully equipped production studio at its Santa Monica headquarters, prides itself on its footing as a content-entertainment service without being beholden to the G-rated content requirements that the big wireless carriers are.

Amp'd Originals, the division responsible for producing edgy shortform pieces, includes the political parody "Lil' Bush: Resident of the United States" created by Donick Carey and the variety show "Venice Beach, CA."

"It was our vision to become the HBO of wireless," says Seth Cummings, senior vp wireless content and Internet services at Amp'd Mobile. "What was offered out of the gate was a blank slate -- and a place for pet projects that creators were scared to bring to the networks."

Plenty of wireless carriers repurpose TV content for mobile. But in December, Amp'd made the reverse leap with "Bush" when Comedy Central bought the TV and digital rights to the series. In February, the series spawned a second made-for-mobile partnership between Amp'd and Carey titled "Lil' Hollywood."

Content partnerships also exist with Bunim Murray Prods., Quincy Jones' QD3 Prods. and LivePlanet, the production company co-founded by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.

"We acted as a sandbox where all these developers could try new things and as an incubator for top Hollywood talent," Cummings says about the company whose investors include MTV Networks and Universal Music Group.

Amp'd content is dispersed across 23 channels and 14 radio stations, ranging in categories from animated shorts and reality series to pay-per-view and live events. Channels on the Amp'd lineup include MTV, Comedy Central and Fox Sports -- and now Fox Reality -- while the service incorporates such wireless features as blogging, multiplayer gaming and text-messaging into its original programming.

"The days of an MTV producer telling you what content to produce are over," Amp'd Mobile founder and CEO Peter Adderton says. "Today's youth are moving a lot faster than the media companies are."

There have been some hiccups along the way for Amp'd. The FCC this month proposed a fine of $100,000 over safeguards covering its customers' phone records, a charge Amp'd has explained as a "misunderstanding." In any case, $100,000 amounts to very little in the expensive world of an MVNO; Amp'd's most recent round of funding netted the company $107 million, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Adderton, who launched the company in 2005 after his wireless company Boost Mobile was acquired by Nextel, serves as the force behind its technology and business development while Cummings, who began his career in television development at Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, works his content and development sources.

"It was a marathon," Cummings says about the company's initial days, which included Adderton and Cummings along with three others working out of Adderton's garage before relocating to their first office in Orange County, Calif. "We acted as a behind-the-scenes entity over the course of two years and got to know the digital units of the major networks."

With its recent international launch in Japan and Canada and a newly struck mobile deal with Fox Reality slated for launch next week, Adderton considers the company a pioneer in the mobile revolution.

"There's a depth to what we're doing -- to understand all these mediums and to try to navigate through them," Adderton says. "We allow youth to determine what they're going to watch on the phone. It's built for them and watched by them."
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