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Movie studio to offer content for handhelds

Columbia TriStar Interactive is offering content tailored for the PalmPilot and Windows CE devices in an attempt to grab mobile eyeballs.

Columbia TriStar is one movie studio that is thinking small--small handheld devices, that is.

Columbia TriStar Interactive, a unit of Sony Pictures Entertainment, is offering content tailored for the PalmPilot and Windows CE devices, in an attempt to grab mobile eyeballs. A user can choose the content he or she wants to receive, and the related channels are automatically updated when the handheld device is synchronized with the user's PC or Macintosh, the studio said.

Theresa Nozick, an analyst with Mobile Insights, said that although she hasn't yet heard about other studios making similar moves, she is not surprised by Columbia TriStar Interactive's latest initiative.

She noted that, on a recent episode of CBS's television show L.A. Doctors, Tom Arnold was shown wielding a PalmPilot to prove his readiness for the Year 2000 computer bug. Arnold, and the show, "served as a walking advertisement for Palm," Nozick said.

"Hollywood is really embracing that little device," she added.

But whereas product placement such as Palm's on L.A. Doctors signals the entertainment industry's recognition of handhelds' popularity, an investment such as Columbia TriStar Interactive's in tailoring its content for users of the devices underscores the fact that executives are catching on to their popularity.

"While we see the desktop computer being our primary audience for the near future, we also see a growing audience for consumer Internet devices," Tim Chambers, director of technology and production for Columbia TriStar Interactive, said in a statement. "These users are looking for compelling entertainment content."

Other popular sites also are working to embrace handhelds. Last month, for example, Yahoo began testing a service that would allow users to transfer information from its online calendars or address books into either their PalmPilots or devices running Microsoft Outlook software.

"There are so many services coming out now," Nozick said, noting that most of the content currently is business oriented. She expects that to change, however.

The PalmPilot will be a "more consumer-oriented device," while Windows CE devices will appeal more to business users because of their connection to Windows applications, she said.

The question for now is similar to the one surrounding entertainment Web sites: how will the studios get a return on the investment it takes to create flashy content?

"I don't know how valuable this is" at the moment, Nozick said, likening the development of content for handhelds to the Web's beginnings in terms of the lack of money-making opportunity and the spotty quality of content overall.

"Right now, during this first round, you get information, but what you're actually going to get is pretty narrow," Nozick said.

"But it will evolve over time," she added, noting that content for handhelds is likely to move toward commerce, just as Web sites have. "It will get to where people will go to McDonald's and place their order right over their PalmPilot."

Columbia TriStar Interactive, for its part, launched two channels today for users of PalmPilot and Windows CE devices, with a third planned for the near future.

"Sony Pictures SPE Scoop," launched today, is "a weekly updated newsletter that includes what SPE movies are in theaters that week, show times for SPE television shows, the latest news about updates to SPE Web sites, and a star 'picture of the week,'" according to the company.

The other channel launched today, in conjunction with a new Web site, kicks off Sony's marketing blitz for its upcoming film, the Thirteenth Floor, scheduled for release in April.

Coming up is a channel for soap opera fans.

Users choose the content they want, and for Windows CE devices, the Web pages are downloaded using technology built into the CE operating system. For PalmPilots, Columbia TriStar Interactive employed technology by AvantGO to allow users to download its content.