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Sony Films Head to Mobile Phones

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LAS VEGAS Sony Pictures Television is looking to launch the first movie network on mobile phones in the U.S.

The studio has signed a deal with AT&T and MediaFLO USA to launch the linear channel as one of two exclusive channels coming to the newly announced AT&T Mobile TV with FLO service in May.

The channel, to be known as PIX, will be stocked with titles such as Ghostbusters, Philadelphia and Stand by Me from Sony labels including Columbia, TriStar, Screen Gems and Sony Classics.

Mobile has been viewed mostly as a marketing platform for theatricals in the U.S. With the domestic mobile video category for even short-form clips lagging behind markets in Europe and Asia, Sony is looking to entice viewers with more diverse content offerings.

"What you see a lot on the carrier decks is promotional content that people can snack a little on," said Eric Berger, vp, mobile entertainment at SPT. "There's nothing currently there as deeply entertaining as these movies."

Films have been made available on handsets on an on-demand basis. Sony was one of several studios that contributed titles to content aggregator MSpot, which teamed with Sprint to launch MSpot Movies in 2006.

Sony always has been bullish on films via mobile. The studio also was the first in the U.S. to embed full-length titles on memory cards for handsets.

Although the prospect of viewers sitting in front of a two-inch screen for two hours seems dim, Berger noted that the objective isn't to keep people watching for the duration of a film.

"We recognize that people are on the go with their mobile phone and coming and going," he said. "This isn't for people looking to view a movie for the first time. It's OK to miss the beginning."

With AT&T on board, PIX will be available on the biggest mobile provider in the U.S., though the company has yet to disclose the price of the FLO tier. With PIX a part of FLO, Sony allows AT&T to differentiate its service from Verizon Wireless, which has been carrying FLO for the past year.

PIX will be available alongside nonexclusive mobile channels including NBC, CBS, ESPN and Nickelodeon, which offer altered forms of their traditional linear programming lineups via multicast transmission.

Sony is negotiating with other U.S. carriers to carry PIX but did not divulge which specific companies are in discussions. As for pricing, each distribution partner likely will use a different business model. For instance, PIX could end up ad-supported on one carrier while free of commercials on another that will charge an extra fee.

Sony eventually might convert PIX to an on-demand model and might take the brand online as well. The full-length linear strategy is just one of many different content plays with which the studio is experimenting. "We're not doubling down and saying it's only about long-form," Berger said. "We'll continue to do innovative things in the short-form universe as well."