T-Mobile has today agreed to buy and deliver content from the digital unit of Sony Pictures Entertainment in a move to add film entertainment to mobile devices.
The agreement will let T-Mobile customers download movie-related content including mobile clips, screensavers, MMS (multimedia messaging service) pictures, theme tune ringtones and specially-created Java games.
"We view entertainment as a key driver to take mobile data services to the mass market and Sony is a very big player in the entertainment industry," said T-Mobile spokeswoman Elaine Devereux.
Although T-Mobile has signed numerous deals for entertainment content in recent months, this one is by far the mobile operator's largest. It is also the first global content partnership for Sony Pictures with a wireless company.
The deal between T-Mobile and Sony Pictures is not exclusive and will almost certainly be followed by others as mobile operators around the globe seek to enrich their content offerings and major film studios move to tap wireless as a new sales channel.
Next month T-Mobile will begin offering some Sony Pictures' content, such as logos, ringtones and games. Movie clips and other, more complicated, video services are set to follow in the first half of 2003, said Devereux. "Video messaging will take a bit longer because the technology is more complex," she said.
The service will be available in Europe and the US, where T-Mobile owns and operates wireless networks. The launch comes soon after the release of new mobile phones equipped with larger colour screens and armed with technology enabling them to transmit data more quickly.
Numerous wireless companies in Europe and the US, including T-Mobile, expect to more than double their revenues from mobile data services over the next three to four years.
The content, targeting18-to-24-year olds, will be priced at €1.49 (95p) to €2.99 (£1.90). It will include over 12 Java-based games including Stuart Little 2 and XXX, as well as Sony Pictures' gameshows Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.
A library of content from classic movies and TV shows including Men in Black, Ghostbusters, and Easy Rider will also be available to customers to download.
T-Mobile and Sony Pictures have agreed to a revenue-sharing scheme which would give the Hollywood studio "slightly over 50 percent of the revenue," Devereux said.
Whether that cut of the revenue is sufficient to keep Sony happy in the long term remains to be seen. "If you ask me, this is a terrible deal for Sony Pictures. T-Mobile could also be shooting itself in the foot by demanding such a high cut of the revenue," said Bena Roberts, wireless analyst at Current Analysis.
By comparison, European operators offering the i-mode service developed by Japan's NTT DoCoMo give content providers 84 percent of the revenue, while O2 offers 85 percent for content delivered over its UK wireless network, according to Roberts.
"It's all about money in the entertainment business," Roberts said. "If an operator like T-Mobile wants exclusive or very high quality content it will have to agree to a much more generous revenue-sharing model in the future or it can expect to receive cheaper, less attractive products from the studios."