HBO, Cingular pact for exclusive mobile deal

The company whose slogan "It's not TV--it's HBO" has taken a large step into the emerging wireless platform, signing an exclusive, multiyear deal with Cingular Wireless that will put Tony Soprano, Larry David, and HBO's children's programming on the smaller screen.

Beginning in January, the two will team up for two premium wireless content services available to Cingular subscribers with third-generation video-enabled phones. HBO Mobile will encompass new and existing programming from the premium channel, including clips of The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm. A separate service, HBO Family Mobile, will offer full-length children's programming.

"The best of HBO can literally be seen in the palm of your hand," HBO chairman and chief executive Chris Albrecht said.

At a news conference Thursday at HBO's offices in midtown Manhattan, Albrecht stressed that HBO was doing more than just offering the standard video clips of recycled content. He promised HBO would be delivering to subscribers a great deal of exclusive, made-for-mobile content.

Already signed to mobile content deals are Sarah Jessica Parker, Bob Costas, Bryant Gumbel, and the production team behind Entourage.

"This is real content specifically programmed for the phone," Albrecht said.

Other HBO content soon available on the newly named Cingular Video will be classic scenes from HBO shows, select full episodes available in two- to four-minute "chapters," and recycled content like The Sopranos' top parenting tips culled from the episodes.

HBO Family Mobile will differ slightly in that there will be more full-length content of shows like Crashbox, A Little Curious, and El Perro y El Gato. HBO sales/marketing chief Eric Kessler said that while research has shown that adults prefer mobile video in two- to three-minute bites, children seem to be willing to watch full-length video on the wireless screens.

No price has been set. Consumers will need to pay for Cingular mobile service as well as a $19.95 per month MediaNet subscription before opting for HBO Mobile or HBO Family Mobile. Also not worked out is a hard start date; HBO executives said a decision on both would be made closer to January.

Although the deal is exclusive to both parties, Albrecht said that it wouldn't preclude HBO from doing its own deal with the video iPod for full-length video like the recent Walt Disney Co./ABC deal.

"We're looking at all that stuff, like everyone else," Albrecht said.

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