Most media futurists are huge believers in the transformative powers that lie in the humble cell phone. For them, its potential exceeds that of a phone, or even that of a phone with a cheap digital camera incongruously attached.
As evidenced by the incredible amount of searching it takes to find a working pay phone these days, cell phones have nearly reached ubiquity. Media companies, ad agencies, and PR firms have all been salivating at the prospect of being able to reach consumers during every waking moment via a small screen in their pocket.
Knowing the short attention span of most Americans, the temptation to whip out a cell phone for a smorgasbord of media options during every unoccupied second - during the commute, in a boring meeting, at lunch, on the way home, during commercials of regular shows, etc. - will be hard to resist.
One of the greatest opportunities that cell-phone media offers is its potential for customization. Its basis is on-demand video, meaning that consumers can punch up whatever they want.
All companies have to do, presumably, is build a deep enough catalog of options, and the people will come.
One aggressive new push toward giving viewers local options came last week, when News Over Wireless, a division of North Carolina-based Capitol Broadcasting Co., debuted a service called "My Local TV." The company struck a deal with Sprint to stream 25 different local television stations over wireless phones, making the package available to subscribers for $4.95 per month.
While other companies in the past have offered more information-based local news services, this marks the first time that residents of, say, Raleigh, NC, can reach into their pockets and call up actual streaming video of the Sky 5 News Team's sure-to-be-accurate weather broadcast for the coming five days.
Now, one could reasonably ask: Why would anybody pay five bucks a month to watch the local news on a cell phone? Like local newspapers, local TV news has one big thing going for it: local news content. What it does not necessarily have going for it are high production values or world-class editorial talent.
When you look at it like this, it's difficult to see how a streaming video of a local weather forecast is really any more valuable than a text readout. Or why someone would be unwilling to wait until they got home to the television to see video of the latest car wrecks, municipal parades, and other detritus that tends to make up most local news.
But the fact that My Local TV may be a wholly unnecessary investment on the part of consumers is unlikely to stop more and more similar offerings from popping into the marketplace in the near future. The entry cost to the market is exceedingly low, and marketing can be left in the hands of the service provider rather than the individual stations, if they so choose.
Most of the stations in My Local TV are CBS affiliates. The network told Mediaweek that it was a conscious strategy to be first in the mobile space because most consumers, while they may have use for one local TV station on their phones, probably don't have use for three or four stations in the same market. Further, a network executive said, CBS can sign on for projects like these with few worries because they amount to a new revenue source for the stations without much investment on their part.
Savvy PR agencies will watch the progress of "local" cell content closely. The increasing inescapability of your local TV anchor may be a scary thought for some, but in a few years, you'll feel naked without an anchor in your pocket.