BeeTV shows coming to cell phone near you

by Kazuaki Nagata

BeeTV, a broadcast service for cell phones, is grabbing the spotlight in the mobile phone industry with aggressive promotions and original content featuring popular TV stars.

More than 550,000 people have signed up between May, when NTT DoCoMo Inc. and Avex Group Holdings launched the service, and July 21.

Industry analysts say BeeTV has the potential to become a power in the field.

“There are several things I am paying attention to,” said Kenshi Tazaki, vice president of IT advisory firm Gartner Japan Ltd.

He said BeeTV could be used as a new marketing tool for advertisers because customers can choose the programs they want whenever they want and select them from the available lineups. Service providers and advertisers meanwhile can key in to viewers’ preferences.

The future success of the service providers will be based on whether they can gain an understanding of users and offer content that caters to them, he added.

BeeTV’s eagerness to expand the service can be seen in its aggressive promotion, having widely placed advertisements on places like trains and on regular TV.

It is also trying to appeal to users with content, all of which is original and features numerous TV celebrities.

The actors appearing in BeeTV dramas are by no means inferior to those who star in dramas broadcast by major TV stations.

Avex has focused on offering fare with popular TV figures, including actors Hiroki Narimiya, Mokomichi Hayami and Manami Konishi, for maximum viewer impact, particularly at the outset.

BeeTV is available on DoCoMo’s i-mode, an exclusive mobile Web service for DoCoMo’s some 50 million cell phone users.

Users can watch more than 20 original programs on eight channels, including dramas, music, comedies and “anime” (animation), for a monthly fee of ¥315.

Because people are still hesitant about watching lengthy videos on their cell phones, each program is about five to 10 minutes long, an Avex spokesman said.

Atsuro Sato, technology and communications analyst at Gartner, said that unlike Apple’s iPhone, BeeTV is not a hardware service, so providing attractive content is natural.

Because BeeTV produces original content, it aims to widen its range with DVD, book and movie spinoffs, according to Avex.

What makes BeeTV unique is its business model. While other popular video Web sites, including YouTube, Nico Nico Douga and Gyao, are mostly free to watch and their income comes from advertisements, BeeTV relies on the ¥315 monthly user fee and currently does not have any ads.

Avex plans to attract about 3.5 million users by March 2013, and if the company succeeds it estimates it will reap some ¥3.5 billion in pretax profit in that fiscal year.

Tazaki said getting even a small monthly fee matters.

“If users watch content even though they have to pay, it means they have a desire to watch,” he said, adding this is quite important in marketing.

BeeTV has an advantage as an advertising tool, he said, because content based on the demand of paying viewers can be more effective than conventional TV.

“Advertisers now doubt of it is worth paying to run ads on TV, since the effect is unknown,” Sato said. Because of the fixed price and faster connection speed, the Internet service is becoming more rooted and attracting advertisers.

Analysts see marketing potential, but as far as ads are concerned BeeTV plans for now to rely on the monthly user fees, the Avex spokesman said.

Some BeeTV content is produced by content creators of major broadcasters, including Fuji TV.

To create attractive cell phone content, service providers must collaborate with existing broadcasters, Sato said, adding both sides will probably walk hand in hand.

The Avex spokesman said the company has no plan to compete with the existing broadcasting services.

The company hopes to succeed on its own and increase users and expand its business by creating quality original content, he said.