Bill Sanders, Sony Pictures Television International, Mobile

1. What is your role at Sony?

Bill Sanders’ role at Sony is to develop Mobile Video Strategy for the International Television group of Sony Pictures.

2. What are some of the challenges/hurdles that Sony faces?

The carriers look for things that can be sold immediately as opposed to creating a life span. A series of content episodes creates viewer loyalty and an on ongoing user experience. It is difficult to get content parsed out in a purposefully limited way.

“An analogy would be Charles Schultz. His comic strip is in the newspaper every day, and builds anticipation for the next day. People do not want to see the whole year published and know the outcome before it is published,” states Sanders. This same analogy applies to DVDs; people would not view the entire the new season of Lost before it comes out on television.

Most carriers operate on a Video-On-Demand model verses a series model. The series model releases one episode at a time and then builds anticipation for the next new episode. The Video-On-Demand model implies endless shelf space, so you place many hours of content that can get stale very quickly.

“For example we tried to place Ripley’s Believe it or not. We had 30 sec and 1 minute clips and wanted to play one per day. The carriers wanted 100 clips at a time. With this consignment perspective, it does no maximize the value of the content. Assuming that the content production costs and internationalization costs were covered, the same 100 clips would get stale form a consumer’s perspective. Thus, the viewing of your channel would get stale,” states Sanders.

In order to make a viable business, it is not that different from Traditional Television. “66 episodes that can run Monday through Friday for 13 weeks straight, 4 times per year. This is a general rule of thumb,” says Sanders.

It is just of matter of understanding content programming. If there is a 30 minute animated show that runs in a 2 hour loop and is refreshed every 2 hours, it is the same as running that 30 minute show 52 episodes, once a week. It is run the same amount of times and the cost is identical. Sanders states ” he difference is that the consumer will always see a new one every day, the content won’t get stale.”

3. What are the challenges that you see the carriers facing?

Carriers are not programmers, and should defer to television experts in programming their content. For programmers, there are issues of content marketing and discovery. If the content has been paid for upfront, it has value and there is money to market the content. For consignment deals, a content provider gets the shelf space, but still needs to market and promote the content themselves.

“For example, a carrier signs a large deal with HBO. It is marketing for the carrier and for the content provider. Marketing can be made a part of the deal terms, but there is a trade off between upfront guarantees and marketing dollars. Content providers can also negotiate being part of the marketing and promotional campaign of the carriers,” states Sanders.

“In France, there is a Gallery. It is an off-deck portal where 3rd parties can have their content billed through the carrier and the carrier takes a small cut. The Content providers get no marketing or advertising whatsoever. So this is a case of production costs verses marketing costs,” says Sanders.

Carriers also have the challenge of support. If content is rotated daily, there is continuous support needed for that programming. If the content is just placed on a shelf, then minimal support from the carrier is needed.

“Both domestic and International carriers are monetizing and programming their shelf space very much like television of 50 years ago. All of the programming is done at a particular time. There is no DVR/PVR capability on the phones, so that people can watch their desired programming when they would like,” says Sanders.

For companies that would like to do short form content, if the content works on the phone, then it will work on Google Video, Yahoo Video, Revver, and others. A short form content company should distribute their content on as many platforms as possible, so they will get a better monetization for their content.

If content is going to be released on a weekly basis, there needs to be an experience wrapped around the other days leading up to the new episode the next week. Use video or text to keep the viewer engaged and interested.

“Internationally, they use their cell phone in a very different way. Because of the large concentration of broadband usage here in the US, we are very used to going to the internet for our entertainment. Internationally, because that infrastructure is not as robust, their cell phone is their primary form to get on the internet and communicate. Internationally, their cell phone is used to interact with the TV,” says Sanders.

Sanders states “One thing that the US does well is pricing. In the US 3G is a flat rate all you can eat. In Europe, on their 3G network, there is a cost for the content and data. In Japan, there is also a cost for the content and the data plan, even though Japan has some of the most advanced handsets.”