Tue, Jun 28, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Made-for-cellphone story to woo subscribers in PRC

ATTENTION-GRABBER A love story optimized to be viewed on a mobile phone is the latest gimmick in the struggle for dominance over China's crowded market


It's a super-modern love story made for the small screen. The very small screen.

Two motorcycle racers vie for the same woman in Appointment, a romance squeezed into five-minute episodes made to be shown on cellphone screens half the size of a credit card.

Its makers hope the 25-minute series will capture attention in China's crowded mobile-phone market, where entrepreneurs are competing furiously to come up with the latest gimmick.

"Chinese people, especially, like new things. They want what's next," said Gang Wei, a 20-year-old student actress who is making her professional debut in the series.

The competition is intense, but with 400 million customers in the world's biggest cellphone market, China offers a potential jackpot to the company that invents a new craze.

Competitors are deluging customers with services ranging from sports and stock market updates to personalized horoscopes.

Last year, one company debuted a mobile phone-based novel written to be transmitted in 70-word chapters.

Last week, Chinese online service Tom Online Inc announced a deal with US movie studio Warner Bros to offer games and animation to 60 million wireless customers.

The latest innovation comes from Beijing's Le-TV Media Group Corp, which says Appointment is China's first TV show made just for mobile phones.

Not many people will be able to see it, though. The series can be viewed only on sophisticated phones with Internet connections made by South Korea's LG Electronics Inc, one of the sponsors of Appointment.

"It will show what the latest phone technology can do," said Le-TV Media general manager Liu Hong.

The LG phones cost about 7,000 yuan (US$850) -- a lavish sum in a country where the average person makes less than US$1,000 a year.

The price of the average Chinese mobile phone is closer to US$150 and the most bare-bones model can cost as little as 300 yuan.

For the actors, Appointment means telling a story quickly in tight shots.

"The gestures I make are very limited. Your emotions should only come from facial expressions. It's quite difficult acting," said Luo Ji, who plays one of Gang's suitors.

"A mobile phone screen is only so big, so it doesn't make sense to have shots that are very wide." said Yu Enyuan, general manager of Le-TV's sister company XBell Technology Group.

Yu originated the idea of filming a mobile phone drama.

"There's very little dialogue -- just a lot of close-ups and gestures, with a soundtrack that'll be added in editing," he said. "We're pursuing a dreamlike beauty."

The series was filmed at Shanghai's Tianma Raceway on a budget of 3 million yuan.

Le-TV Media hopes to pay for this production entirely through company sponsorships.

But if the technology proves popular, viewers would pay to watch future programs.

Such services, however, are competing for a small group of customers at the top end of the Chinese cellphone market. The vast majority of customers sign up for cut-rate services that offer only the features they need, with no premium text-messaging or roaming.

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