Patrick Parodi, Mobile Entertainment Forum – The IBC Digital Lifestyles Interviews

This is the seventh in a series of eight articles with some of the people involved with the Digital Lifestyles conference day at IBC2004.

We talked to Patrick Parodi, Chair of the Mobile Entertainment Forum about what the MEF has set out to achieve and the future rolls our mobile phones might take on.

Patrick has a dozen years of experience in designing, planning, and launching wireless network services in more 20 markets world wide. In addition to his current role at Packet Video Networks, he has worked for Diveo, Skytel, Teleworx and TVAnswer in various business development and marketing positions.

Some of our readers may not have encountered you, or the Mobile Entertainment Forum.  Could you give us some background on the MEF and your involvement?

The Mobile Entertainment Forum is a global trade association representing all participants in the mobile entertainment value chain.

It started out 4 years ago with a few technology providers for mobile games and messaging coming together, along with Booz Allen Hamilton, to consider the cross industry issues facing mobile entertainment. I’ve personally been involved with the Forum for 2 years, first as Board MemberVice Chair and recently as its Chairman.

The organization has grown to over 65 members from all segments of entertainment and communications. What united our members under the MEF banner is their committed to growing mobile media as a major component of their revenue, whether they are a technology company, a broadcaster, a record label or a mobile games company. The diversity of our membership reflects the diversity of the industry and points to the need for a Forum where views and opinions can be shared on how the industry can grow faster. Our objective is to bridge the gap between entertainment and communication through advocacy, education and the launch of specific MEF initiatives.

The emphasis is on growing mobile revenues responsibly. Companies join MEF in order to play a leading role in setting the right commercial parameters in this evolving new industry. The coming together of the traditional entertainment and mobile industries certainly creates a need to develop a common understanding of how this business is emerging such that sensible business models are adopted allowing all players to participate in creating end user value. MEF members are addressing vital issues such as the adoption of mobile digital rights management and the creation of mobile communities.

Both of these initiatives are led by members who have come together to share information and learning in order for others to understand how they can participate in the creation of this new business. We also believe it is very important to communicate this learning and the opportunities created by mobile entertainment to those new to the industry, in particular those in the traditional entertainment and media industries.

An example of how MEF has helped move the mobile entertainment business forward is the recent launch of the MEF’s UK ringtones chart, which measures, publicizes and legitimizes the development of this growing market. The Mobile Entertainment Forum is also looking to ensure that the right regulation gets adopted –one that provides sensible guidelines for protecting consumers whilst ensuring healthy revenues for all players. Hence, our Regulatory Committee has recently submitted comments to the EU’s e-Money Directive and how it applies to mobile.

“All boats float with the incoming tide.” We are at the early stage of a new industry called mobile entertainment. It is vital that all parts of the mobile entertainment business have a common voice and recommend ways to resolve core issues and help the market grow. This is what I believe the Forum is providing to its members. A common voice.

Tell me about PacketVideo Network Solutions?

To keep with the boat and tide analogy, PacketVideo Network Solutions (pvNS) provides software for the “boats” who want to enrich the mobile media experience with video and music. The company is owned by Alcatel, and was formerly a division of PacketVideo. With over 20 commercial launches worldwide, pvNS is recognized as the leading provider of software solutions centered around the pvServer to mange and distribute mobile video and audio services.

Right from day one the sole focus of pvNS has been the creation of products and services for mobilemedia.

PacketVideo Network Solutions has chosen to employ AAC as their mobile music format.  Can you tell me what drew you to AAC?

Like any other technology company when it comes to formats we have to be agnostic. We can run bench tests and believe that one format is better than another, but if that format doesn’t make it onto devices then we shouldn’t be backing it. For mobile music it’s fair to say that AAC (and AAC+) is our preferred format simply because it provides the consumer with the best experience.

It also happens to be the format that has been adopted as part of the 3GPP standard and will find its way in more devices than any other format on the market. That being said, we’ll work with other formats too – whether proprietary or open.

Can you tell us a little about your IBC session this year?  What are you hoping to cover?

I’m very honored since this year I’m actually participating in two panels at IBC.

The first is on mobile devices and networks (The business of handhelds – who will survive – Saturday 11 September at 14.00 – 15.30 hrs. Location: Room L) and the second is on the new business models surrounding the broadcast business (Future Business Models – Sunday 12 September. at 16.00 – 17.45 hrs Location: Forum). Both have extremely provocative titles and are chaired by great people (Bernard Pauchon of TDF, and Kate Bulkley who writes about this space).

My views on both topics will be very mobile user centric. Although there are many different networks (GPRS, 3G, DMB, WiFi, DVB-H etc…) and many different creators and owners of digital content, there is only one end user.

This end user wants personalized, real time, and localized content. If you look at the value of the ring tone business (roughly 2.5 Billion dollars in 2003) you realize that it is almost 10% of the value of the music industry! Now the question: Are people paying to listen to the music or to personalize their phones?

Clearly content is going mobile and content on a mobile is only “king” if it provides that added value which is created through personalization. Some are calling it conversational content…others communitainment.

The mobile phone is the most personal content receiver we have in our possession and there are now over a billion of them worldwide. This is just the beginning.

Broadcasters are catching on to mobile phones as a revenue stream and way to extend brands – will customers pay for content they might get free through the internet or television?
  The simple answer is no. The way broadcasters are generating money on mobile is by using mobile networks as reply paths. The advent of reality TV and the ability for audience participation via SMS has blown away the level of interactivity expected by the iTV industry. Ask any mobile operator what the impact of Endemol has been on the mobile data business.

The question to ask now is, will the operator networks or even broadcast networks be able to deliver valuable content to mobile devices? The answer is yes, but not without a serious effort in understanding the new time and space dimensions created with the mobile. The value to the user is directly proportional to the contents ability to relate to the new dimensions of time and space being created.

Content will be valuable once it is wrapped into a service or application combining in real time, communication, personalization, and localization.

Think about how you feel when you grab your mouse to surf the web. Your attitude is “what can I get for free?”

When you connect with your mobile, you are conscious of the fact that each connection and each transaction results in money being spent. Therefore you are more disposed to pay for the right content. I am particularly curious to what happens with the overlay of location based services on mobile networks. This will result in “localized” content which also have a profound impact on end user value creation.

Do you see the mobile phone eventually replacing all of the devices we carry around with us from day to day – like our music players and wallets?
  It’s tempting to say yes, but my answer is just a little more subtle. I think the phone will morph into a device that can carry out all these functions and more, but I don’t think that means it’ll replace all these other devices. I think it will certainly be our main portable electronic device and I think for those times that we want to carry one device we’ll choose the phone.

However there will be times that we’ll want to carry a specialist device that’s designed to do just one task insanely well.

A 5 Megapixel digital camera for instance. For a long flight I may still want a bespoke machine for watching films on a 15 cm portable screen, and there’ll probably be a bespoke music player that offers more functionality than a phone for a long time to come.

So it’ll be horses for courses – but the phone will be the no.1 portable electronic device. It is unique, addressable, and affordable.

Patrick is a panellist in the ‘Future Business Models‘ session between 16:00 and 17:45 at the IBC conference on Sunday, 12th September in Amsterdam. Register for IBC here

Packet Video Network Solutions

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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?