The collaboration fuses Melodeo's Mobilcast, a client that allows users to stream podcasts on their cell phones, with Alltel's Axcess service, which features downloadable and streaming media such as ring tones and mobile TV.
Originally introduced as part of Melodeo's beta launch on June 28, Mobilcast is available as a free download to anyone with a compatible cell phone, although its deal with Alltel deal is Melodeo's first in the U.S.
Alltel users can now opt in to a $3.99 monthly subscription that gives them unlimited access to streaming podcasts from Melodeo through the Axcess platform. Podcast content ranges from "Bubba Bohacks' Joke of the Day" toto Chinese language lessons.
A similar collaboration is already in place between Melodeo and Canadian carrier Rogers Wireless. Melodeo founder and Executive Vice President Bill Valenti has expressed interest in expanding not only to other North American service providers, but to carriers in Europe and Asia as well.
"We found that the receptivity to the idea of mobile podcasting has been very warm and very rapid," Valenti said in an interview. "It's a much easier multimedia launch than a full-track music service with all the DRM (digital rights management) and major-label licensing issues, because the content is much more amenable to mobile networks."
Valenti added that Melodeo, which was launched on June 28 and is still in beta mode, hopes to unveil within the next month a synchronization function that lets listeners stream podcasts from their PCs and then pick them up via cell phone when they leave the house.
Because Melodeo has already made its podcasts available for mobile listening, it's still unclear what effect the tie-ins with major carriers will have on the start-up's user base. Melodeo representatives, however, say they are confident in the new business plan, noting that if the Mobilcast client is used without a data plan from a wireless carrier, it still requires a high-bandwidth data feed for which the wireless subscriber is charged extra. Collaborations with wireless providers that charge under $5 per month for unlimited podcast streaming, they say, can make Mobilcast a cheaper and more attractive option.
Another potential roadblock for Melodeo will be keeping up with Apple Computer's, which Valenti cites as a real mover and shaker in the rise of podcasting. "Two years ago, podcasting almost didn't exist," he said. "It has just grown exponentially."
By jumping into mobile podcasting and forging alliances with major carriers, Valenti hopes that Melodeo will have an advantage over the iTunes behemoth, which currently does not facilitate mobile streaming of its podcast library. "We're focused on trying to replicate the Apple iTunes podcast phenomenon by extending podcasts to mobile phones," Valenti said.