Player X goes back to future

Pacts with Par on animated 'retrosodes' for mobiles

Mobile entertainment company Player X is bringing "retrosodes" based on such hit movies as "Saturday Night Fever," "Zoolander" and "Top Gun" to a cell phone near you.

The British-based firm has inked a worldwide co-production and co-development deal with Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment Group to develop, produce and format retrosodes on the back of the trio of big movie brands.

Player X has trademarked the neologism "retrosode" to describe the content, which is an animation that lasts up to three minutes and features original characters in new story lines.

Sandi Isaacs, Paramount Pictures Digital Entertainment senior vp interactive and mobile, said the studio plans to be heavily involved in the production of the 10 three-minute retrosodes.

"These will be part of our made-for-mobile productions at the studio," Isaacs said. "It's a great thing for us to be able to compliment the original motion picture classics and introduce them to an audience in a new format."

Player X already has enjoyed success with animated retrosode programming, having obtained the go-ahead from filmmaker Michael Mann and Universal Studios to turn "Miami Vice" into hand-held nuggets.

CEO Tony Pearce thinks the market for such material has "huge potential" for studios seeking to maximize revenue streams from existing properties.

"Such retrosodes also help introduce a new, younger and entirely different audience to existing big movie brands," he said.

Player X already produces and formats "Knight Rider" retrosodes and has exclusive North American rights to the entire output from Aardman Animations, home to "Wallace & Gromit" and "Angry Kid."

The British company is establishing itself in North America through a deal with Verizon to carry its original mobile programming strand, Zapper TV, which mixes animation and live action with programs like "Wallace & Gromit" with made-for-mobile programming like "Miami Vice."

Programming adapted from "Mr. Bean's Holiday" as well as "Knight Rider" and "Magnum, P.I." also are available. Verizon Wireless customers can find Zapper TV in the TV & Film section on select V Cast-enabled phones.

The company also has distributed, produced and designed mobile content with Fox for "American Dad" and "Family Guy" in various territories worldwide.

Fox Broadcasting trademarked the term "mobisode" in 2004 for mobile content designed specifically for cell phones, so the market is clearly expanding. Pearce said that the company strategy means that made-for-mobile content is the way forward and will lead to growth.

"I don't believe in watching terrestrial television programs or movies on your mobile," he said. "They belong onscreen. What I am a big believer in is the quick, snappy, edgy content you can specifically create for people to consume on their mobiles."

Pearce said that if content is between 30 seconds and three minutes in length, the market for subscribers or those buying episodes on-demand is potentially huge.

"We hope content like this can drive users and develop across the entertainment industry," Isaacs said.

Subscription plans depend on territory and carrier, but in the U.K. subscribers can pay £5 ($10) a month for access to GeekTV, Player X's British version on which Zapper TV was based. Viewers can fork out about 50 pence ($1) a day to do the same.

For retrosode programming on a VOD pay-per-view basis, consumers are looking at £1-£1.50 ($2-$3) to download or stream each retrosode.

Alternatively, on such channels as Zapper TV or Verizon's V Cast, the retrosodes are part of an "all-you-can-eat" mobile TV package at £7.50 ($15) per month.

Pearce conceded that it remains a fresh marketplace as handset capabilities begin to catch up with the capacity that new 3G networks can offer. However, "once the handsets catch up with the network offerings, it has massive potential," he said.

He's not alone in his optimism. A recent report from research specialist Informa Media forecasts worldwide revenue from mobile TV and video content, not including advertising, to rise from $2.5 billion in 2006 to $8.4 billion in 2011.