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On Wallace, Gromit and charging for content by PC and mobile phone

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Yesterday, Aardman, the animation studio responsible for Wallace and Gromit, announced its intention to release 12 new one minute films featuring the plasticine idols on the Web. They will be available free from the Autumn.

The shorts are intended as a promotional device. "Using a free CD Rom 'album', fans will visit chosen web sites to collect a series of short film clips. Each set collected unlocks a whole film for viewing from the CD. A new film will be available for collection onto the 'album' each weekend." Viral marketing at it's best - or a missed opportunity to charge for this content?

Aardman is no stranger to the Web: its Angry Kid cartoon series has had more than seven million plays and downloads since release. Sponsorships and commercial tie-ins have recouped production costs., the company says. Yes, but what about the hosting and streaming charges? Where did they go?

We think that Aardman's decision to not charge for the new shorties is an opportunity missed. Charging small amounts for frivolous entertainment represents one of the near futures for broadband. This is what we are trying to do with SalmonDays, our live-action, BOFH-inspired comedy streaming epic.

Per Mobile

Already, several thousand people have paid to see episode one - and paid using the reverse billing on the mobile phone. Clearly, we want several tens of thousands to watch Salmon Days, and we will be shortly introducing PayPal, which will enable people from all over the world to see the show, if they wish.

But why make people pay by mobile phone in the first place? We have two reasons: the first is that mobile phone billing systems are much better than those available for PCs for charging and collecting small amounts of money; and punters are much more used to paying for mobile phone content than they are for PCs. OK, so in our case, it's PC content paid for by phone, but you see where we are heading.

Our hunches over the future of entertainment as a chargeable broadband service, and mobile phones as the billing platform are not entirely vacuous: explanatory force is provided by a useful survey released today by Jupiter MMXI.

Entitled Paid Content More Successful on Mobile than on the PC, the report notes that European consumers spent E590 million for content on their mobile phones in 2001, almost twice as much as spent on the PC.

Ring Tone

And they spend it on more things - such as ring tones, logos, sports scores and stock prices. By contrast, porn dominates paid-for PC content, accounting for 70 per cent of the spend. Games, finance and business news soak up most of the rest.

By 2006 European consumers will spend E3.3 billion for content on their mobile phones, compared to E1.7 billion on their PCs.

So, punters don't mind paying for content by phone - and they have no choice. But they do not like paying for stuff on their PC. According to Jupiter, 47 per cent of Europeans surveyed say they will never pay for content on their PC.

More hearteningly, for the record companies anyway, 16 per cent of Europeans would consider paying for music online, by far the highest percentage in any category.

According to Jupiter, broadband will drive paid-for PC content, with music, gaming and online video accounting for 67 per cent of the spend in 2006.

However, "the vast majority of the Internet will remain free and there won't be a dramatic shift from a free to a paid Internet, especially among narrowband users. The only companies that will generate solid paid content revenues on the PC will be the ones that offer entertainment-related content," Jupiter notes.

As for mobile phones, future content will include "enhanced ring tones and logos, multimedia alerts (with audio and images), and electronic greeting cards. Electronic greeting cards will remain a popular, mostly free service on the web, but consumers will actually pay for them on their mobile phones, as they have been paying for ringtones and logo downloads over the last 18 months." Punters will also shell out for news alert sent by SMS, so news publishers get cracking, Jupiter advises. ®

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