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AtomFilms aims at handhelds, cell phones

The company dedicated to delivering film shorts and animation online is launching a mobile initiative to bring entertainment to wireless phones and personal digital assistants.

Coming soon to handheld devices and cell phones near you: video shorts and cutting-edge cartoons.

AtomFilms, a company dedicated to delivering film shorts and animation online, today is launching a mobile initiative aimed at bringing its content to bored bus riders and people stuck in long lines.

The company has launched a new part of its Web site with content geared for personal digital assistants (PDA) such as PalmPilots. It also has signed a distribution deal with Microsoft aimed at the new Pocket PC.

But that's just the first step, executives say. By the end of the year, AtomFilms plans to be streaming films to cell phones, at least in Europe and Asia where the technology is more advanced than in the United States.

The wireless strategy in particular is ambitious territory for a company still struggling to help invent a culture of Web video. Entertainment features on wireless phones have yet to take off in the United States, where people are at most using their phones to check stock quotes and email.

The move to PDAs is a natural first step for mobile video, analysts said. Viewers can download films quickly onto their personal computers and then transfer the files to the Pocket PC or another device, skipping the slow wireless downloads.

The wireless ventures will come later. The company is talking to some of the biggest mobile phone companies in the world and is moving closer to signing distribution deals with them, said Mika Salmi, AtomFilms' chief executive.

That's a tough nut to crack effectively, however. Download speeds for most wireless devices run at less than a quarter the speed of modern dial-up modems. Video on connections like this is painfully slow and choppy.

CNET TV: Mika Salmi
CNET TV: Mika Salmi

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Several other companies also are moving down this path, however. Start-up PacketVideo recently filed for an initial public offering, aiming to provide videoconferencing and short video entertainment over mobile phones.

The trick, analysts say, is to take advantage of animation and video entertainment technologies to provide relatively short downloads. AtomFilms, with its library of cartoons and video shorts, is in the right place to do this, they say.

"The kind of content that fits in these places and what people want is very different than what people have thought," Salmi said. "It isn't going to be 'Seinfeld.' It isn't going to be 'American Beauty.'"

Even with these advantages, it's still early. Video over wireless connections probably won't be a real factor until a new generation of high-speed mobile phone networks hits the mass market. That's likely to start happening in Europe and Asia as soon as next year, and a little more slowly in the United States.

But AtomFilms is doing the right thing in establishing its brand early, according to analysts.

"It's a necessary move for a company like Atom," said Peter Clemente, vice president of consulting firm Cyber Dialogue. "Entertainment companies, even the large companies, need to establish their brand today in the narrowband world."