--it evolved as a medium with its own peculiarities that required and spawned new ways of telling and structuring screen stories. Yet despite their vast differences, over the past fifty years, television and film have become intimately interwoven. We watch films, and information about films, on television. Films morph into television series and vice versa. Television and film are complementary--as are most media.
Although this understanding of media as generally symbiotic is widely accepted, there still persists a common tendency to see new media as cannibals of existing platforms, or as channels through which to squeeze the content of 'old media'. This problematic and reactionary perspective is precisely what is informing much of the current talk about mobile screens.
The main debate about mobile video revolves around whether people will want to watch film and television content on two-inch screen. And the simple answer is, 'Of course they won't!' Only the narrow-minded in the industry expect people to. What people will watch on mobile screens will be mobile content --not television, and not film.
It is handy to think about it in terms of the beginnings of television. When television emerged as a new screen, some people derided it by arguing that nobody would want to watch a ninety-minute film while sitting ten metres from a thirty-inch television screen. But television is not cinema, and cinema is not television. The same holds true for the mobile screen: it is a completely new medium that requires completely new conceptions of content, of audience, of distribution, and of the ways in which people will access, engage, purchase, view and interact with content.
Many research findings that dismiss mobile video as hype simply serve to reinforce the point that mobile video needs to be understood in terms of the peculiarities of its own grammar. For instance, a recent study conducted in over twenty-one countries found that 'just fifteen per cent of cell phone users would be willing to pay to watch programs on their phones. Of those, forty-nine per cent said that they would watch news clips, while seventeen per cent said that they would check out sports clips. But aside from time-sensitive content, consumers expressed little desire to watch conventional entertainment programming'. (1)
The key term here is 'conventional entertainment programming'. The conventions of writing and shooting for mobile, as well as the conventions for viewing mobile programming, are different to those of film and television--simple. To report that people have little desire to watch 'conventional entertainment' on mobiles is like saying people won't want to read novels in broadsheet newspaper format, or that diners won't want to eat soup with a fork. A more productive response would be to begin to imagine how these new screens might be able to alter and enhance the storytelling conventions that we've developed over centuries.
The time to imagine is now. The mobile video industry is poised to boom. There are more mobile phones in the world than cinemas, televisions, and computers combined, and the proportion of those phones that are video- and net-enabled is growing rapidly. A recent report puts the projected number of global 3G subscribers at 1.2 billion by 2010. (2) Even if subscriptions reached half that figure, the sheer number of screens demands attention.
And it's not just numbers on the rise. The image quality of mobile screens is improving by the day. Titans of screen-technology development are applying all they've learnt from making massive plasma screens to the new small screen. Among a host of developments, Samsung have added white pixels to the standard RCB (red, green, blue) alignment, claiming the RGBW alignment increases the brightness on the screen by as much as seventy per cent. Next year they plan to roll out a broadened color palette of 16.7 million colors, a sixty-four fold increase on the current 262,000 available in handsets today. …