- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

LOS ANGELES

Pull out your cell phone and take a good look at it.

It certainly doesn’t seem like a TV set. The simple games it came with don’t compare with anything on even the oldest GameBoy, much less a new Xbox or PlayStation console. When it comes to music, the sound quality probably isn’t a whole lot better than an old AM transistor radio.

Yet for many in the communications and entertainment business, the cell phone is still — shake your head if you’ve heard this before — the ultimate entertainment device.

Don’t believe it? Neither do most people.

In a survey this year, financial company RBC Capital Markets found that 75 percent of respondents said they had no interest in watching television or movies on their cell phone. About 69 percent said they didn’t want to use their phones to listen to music.

That isn’t stopping cell companies and entertainment industry executives from trying, trying again to dial in the mobile entertainment business. They announced quite a few initiatives at a wireless industry conference here earlier this month.

Soon, they say, you will watch full-length movies and live television on your handset. You’ll use it to play the newest video games, download and listen to the latest releases from Beyonce or Brooks and Dunn, or vote for who’s the most appealing person belonging to your mobile social networking service.

Especially with video, “We’ve always been waiting and waiting and waiting for this to happen,” acknowledged Karen Cook-Hellberg, of Ericsson Inc. in Plano, Texas, which makes software and other solutions for mobile entertainment. “I’d say it’s really coming now, though.”

What the cell phone people see, of course, is potential. In the United States alone, there are 219 million users of increasingly powerful cell phones who keep the devices with them all the time. And despite the nay-saying about entertainment, industry executives are quick to point out, nobody thought camera phones or text messaging would take off either.

“We see that this is going to follow the exact same trend that PCs did,” said Michael Arrieta, senior vice president for mobile entertainment at Sony Pictures, which is now making some of its full-length movies available on cell phones. “To say this is not going to happen on the phone is crazy.”

Maybe so — but probably not anytime soon, said Julie Ask, a senior analyst with technology consulting firm Jupiter Research. A recent Jupiter survey found that only about 1 percent of cell phone users are willing to pay for video on their phones.

Tiny screens are getting bigger and tinny speakers are getting better, Miss Ask said, but for now, “this is still a voice device we’re talking about.

“It’s going to get there, but it’s not really happening now,” she said.

Jeff Kagan, an independent telecommunications industry analyst in Atlanta, agrees: It’s inevitable that more entertainment services will wind up on your cell phone. If for no other reason, Mr. Kagan said, phone companies will force them onto the market as they search for new profits to help pay for the billions of dollars they’ve spent upgrading their networks in recent years.

“The industry has poured so much money into this that they won’t let it fail,” Mr. Kagan said.

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