Upward mobility: Studios eye hot Australian sector

Deals bringing U.S. series to Oz cells

Hollywood studios are increasingly circling Australia's burgeoning mobile TV and online video markets as evidenced by a trio of supply deals announced Thursday.

Sony Pictures Television International's "Damages" will become one of the first TV series to air on mobile phones in Australia under a new agreement signed with Australia's largest telecom, Telstra. MTV Networks will supply TV programs to the same service, while E! Networks is supplying Microsoft-PBL Media joint Internet venture ninemsn with an E! branded site.

Telstra mobile and Internet division BigPond on Thursday launched a new video-on-demand mobile TV service, which will supply full-length TV series to its 3G customers, the first mobile phone operator to do so in this market.

BigPond's 3G customer base covers about 800,000 of Australia's 19 million mobile phone users and is growing at a rate of 100,000 a month.

The company's new deal with Sony, which already gives it movies and TV series for broadband download, gives its mobile phone customers access to episodes of "Damages" and other programs such as "Kidnapped" on the day after they air here on the Nine Network. Nine will air both series later this year.

Separately, MTV Networks Australia said it will supply BigPond with episodes of popular shows including "South Park," "SpongeBob SquarePants," "Pimp My Ride" and "Laguna Beach." That deal will make Australia the first country outside the U.S. where mobile phone users are able to stream full-length episodes of "South Park" to their phones.

BigPond managing director Justin Milne said his company is "the first Australian TV-on-mobile service to offer multiple longform programs, the first to offer DVD-style menus (to allow for full-length programs), and the first to offer 'catch-up TV' with major U.S. shows."

Matt Fayle, MTVN Australia director for digital media, said the deal forms "part of our remit to use mediums outside our television channels to further reach and entertain our consumer."

BigPond mobile TV also has launched two specially commissioned, made-for-mobile programs: "Big 5," featuring local comedians Hamish Blake and Andy Lee, and sitcom "Girl Friday."

Other programs expected to be available at launch include local comedy "The Chaser's War on Everything," "The Shield," "Beavis & Butt-Head," "Jackass," "Family Guy," "Dirty Sanchez" and "Dilbert." BigPond also will make "minisodes" of such TV classics as "Charlie's Angels" and "Starsky and Hutch."

Customers will pay a per-episode fee or a monthly subscription fee to access the programs.

A BigPond spokesman said the company is in negotiations with other studios for content. It has worked closely with the Nine Network on the "Damages" deal and is looking to leverage that relationship to other programs, he said.

BigPond already offers a monthly package of Foxtel pay TV channels that stream to mobile TV users.

Meanwhile, E! Networks and BigPond online rival ninemsn said Thursday that they have inked a new partnership that will deliver E!'s entertainment news and lifestyle content to ninemsn's audience of more than 8 million people on an E! branded site within the ninemsn portal.

The partnership marks the first time E! has licensed its brand to an online media company.

The site, which is scheduled to launch in the next month, will feature exclusive short-form content from E! and Style, with clips from "E! News," "Planet Gossip," "Live From the Red Carpet," "Wild On," "Fashion Police," "Style Tips," "Style Her Famous" and "Girls of the Playboy Mansion."