Live, from Tokyo, it's your local weather
Japan's Weathernews is producing bite-sized videos of American weather forecasts - part of a wave of local content coming to your cell phone.
By Michal Lev-Ram, Business 2.0 Magazine writer-reporter

SAN FRANCISCO (Business 2.0 Magazine) -- From weather reports to sports wrap-ups, mobile video content is going local - in a global sort of way.

For instance, in the San Francisco Bay Area, starting this week, subscribers to a mobile TV service called WNI LiveLocal will be able to watch snippets of local news segments on their cell phones.

Ironically, the company behind LiveLocal, Weathernews Inc., is a Japanese outfit that's hoping to export its successful cell-phone video service to the United States.

This isn't the first time that Weathernews has ventured into the U.S. The company's got a long history of providing weather data to various U.S. airlines, charter ships, and media sites such as Yahoo (Charts). But now, says Daniel Scalisi, VP of media services at Weathernews Americas, the company is focusing its energies on mobile content.

Sunny weather for small screens

WNI LiveLocal's first big push into the American mobile-video market is with KRON 4, a San Francisco television station that will provide Bay Area news content like traffic updates, sports wrap-ups and weather forecasts.

And according to Scalisi, more than 80 additional TV stations are lined up to join Weathernews' WNI network over the next three months. Once that happens, subscribers will get access to weather forecasts and other local content like news, traffic updates and sports wrap-ups from all of Weathernews's network affiliates, viewable from anywhere in the country.

These short clips - generally three to five minutes long - are ideal for cell phones, analysts say.

"Nobody expects you to watch two-hour movies on your phone," says Michelle Abraham, a principal analyst with research firm In-Stat. For one thing, watching video for that long would likely drain your cell-phone battery.

A more typical scenario is watching a three-minute video while waiting in line at Starbucks (Charts). Some in the industry call the short clips consumed in such a way "snackable content."

And a lot of consumers are expected to bite. ABI Research projects there will be half a billion mobile TV subscribers worldwide by 2011.

National or local?

But there's debate in the industry on the best way to attract those subscribers - with familiar national networks, or local content.

"Most companies have been focused on national feeds and content," says Scalisi. "But we felt there was a lot that mobile could do for local."

At $4.99 a month, Weathernews's service is less expensive than others such as the V Cast mobile-TV service from Verizon (Charts), which streams video clips from national news and sports channels to users' phones and costs $15 per month. WNI LiveLocal is currently available to Sprint Nextel (Charts) customers only, but Scalisi says they're working on adding Cingular and other carriers.

Weathernews expects 200,000 users to sign on within the first year - a lofty goal, perhaps, but the company says it has already signed up 1.5 million paying subscribers for similar services in Asia and Europe.

But Weathernews is not the only company actively looking into supplying local videos to cell-phone carriers. Mobile television service provider MobiTV is also looking into adding local content to the dozens of national channels it already carries, including MSNBC and Fox (Charts) Sports, which are available to Sprint, Cingular, and Alltel customers. Currently, the only local programming that the Emeryville, Calif.-based company carries are special events like regional sports games and concerts.

"[Local video content] is one of the biggest requests we get from subscribers," says Jason Taylor, global director of corporate communications at MobiTV.

For now, the money for Weathernews is mostly in monthly subscriber fees. But the company could also make money down the road through advertising that's built into the clips. Given the short length of the clips, it's unlikely to tack on 30-second commercials to the beginning or end of a video. But it could display the logo of an advertiser below a clip as it plays.

Japan's long been known as a hotbed for cell-phone innovation. But still, it's a bit ironic that it took Weathernews, a Japanese company, to show American TV stations in San Francisco and elsewhere the value of their videos.

It's an easy enough lesson, though: Think globally, view locally. Top of page

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