Oprah Launches Oprah Mobile

With the launch of Oprah Mobile, the daytime TV queen appears to be laying the groundwork for a bigger push into digital media in advance of the debut of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) on cable TV next year.

The App, optimized for the iPhone, Android, BlackBerry and Palm Pre phones, offers a window into Oprah’s media empire — including clips and previews from “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” weekly polls, articles and photos from O, The Oprah Magazine and Oprah.com, and her Twitter updates.

Released by Winfrey’s Harpo Studios, the Oprah Mobile app sells for $1.99 in the App Store. A spokesperson for the studio said Monday the app may extend to OWN, though it’s not yet decided. But that seems like a pretty good bet, given the increased emphasis her forthcoming cable channel will place on digital distribution. Robert Tercek, president of digital media for OWN, said the project will build new media into programming from the ground up.
He also noted that OWN would carry over the core of a digital audience from past efforts like periodic live Web broadcasts of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Oprah Mobile would seem to fit that strategy to help cultivate a wider digital audience via smartphone users, which are estimated to make up as much as a quarter of all U.S. mobile subscribers.

Down the road, it’s not hard to envision a comparable Oprah app for the iPad to showcase her various properties and extend live programming and interactive features, including m-commerce, to mobile devices. Tercek last month waxed enthusiastic about the Apple tablet, pointing out the advantage it has over any competing gadget because it comes with the ability to run existing iPhone apps (which would now include Oprah Mobile).

Tercek will have to make sure Oprah doesn’t get too out in front of her audience — which he acknowledged isn’t exactly the early-adopter crowd — in embracing new mobile and digital tools. No need to worry about impressing Apple fanboys.

Offering Oprah Mobile for free instead of charging might’ve been a good way to start, for instance, but the new cable network’s creators will have to test different approaches and learn as they roll out Oprah 2.0.

FIAT Saves Chrysler?

Attorneys for Chrysler said the company will file a motion by Saturday to sell substantially all of its assets to Italian automaker Fiat Group SpA, but that won’t include eight plants, including five that the automaker revealed it will shutter by the end of next year.

Yikes who would have thought “Fix It Again Tony” would have to save Chrysler. Where is Lee Iacocca when we need him?

YouTube Still Growing as a Marketing Tool

Yet another reason for traditional TV outlets to worry about their relevance: YouTube.com, the hot new outlet for people to post and share homemade videos, has caught the attention of big-name marketers.
Nike, Warner Bros., MTV2 and Dimension Films are among the firms seeding the site with commercial clips. Now, along with consumer-made videos of newborn babies, weddings and teens pulling pranks, is a short of soccer star Ronaldinho in his new Nike sneakers.

Part of YouTube’s lure is its ease of use. Consumers and advertisers can upload clips quickly.
The site, which is like a virtual photo album that hosts millions of short videos, is simple to search.

As broadband penetration grows, and consumer appetite for on-demand entertainment swells, video-sharing sites such as YouTube are taking off.

That buzz has piqued the interest of major marketers, ad agencies and media buying firms.
“From a brand standpoint, it’s become another way to reach consumers,” says Barry Lowenthal, president of ad buying company Media Kitchen.

In a world teeming with cynical consumers and ad-skipping devices such as TiVo, YouTube’s edge is that its users actively seek out content. When word-of-mouth built about Nike’s gritty Ronaldinho clip, consumers e-mailed the video to friends and embedded it in their profiles on social networking sites. It has been viewed more than 3 million times.

The price for Nike? Not much. The sneaker maker shot a digital video, then uploaded it for free.
As YouTube’s must-see status swells, some firms want more formal arrangements. E Networks and YouTube struck a deal for the site to feature various E program clips.

Deep Focus, a marketing firm representing studios such as The Weinstein Co., and MTV2 have both worked with YouTube on promotional opportunities.

Weinstein ran a trailer for Scary Movie 4 from its Dimension Films division. “Within 24 hours, we had 250,000 views of the trailer,” says Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer. “Within a week, we had a million.”
Deep Focus also placed the worldwide premiere trailer for Clerks II, which Weinstein released with MGM. It was viewed 150,000 times in the first two days, says Schafer.

YouTube won’t disclose financial or other details, but in most cases, those companies get preferential treatment, such as plugs on its home page.

Clips that run as part of more formal agreements are usually marked with the logo of the firm that placed them to let viewers know they are promotional.

Other firms aren’t officially working with YouTube but are uploading videos on their own. To hype Superman Returns, Warner Bros. posted video blogs from the movie’s director.

“It’s fantastic from a consumer research standpoint,” says Lowenthal. “You can type in a search for ‘shopping’ and then see (videos) of people showing their shopping habits. It’s almost like a global focus group — all for free.”
As it grows, YouTube’s challenge is to turn the rising tide of advertiser interest into dollars.

The company expects to reap ad revenue but is cautious. To remain relevant, it needs to serve paying advertisers without looking like a sellout to its millions of average users.
“We want to be sensitive on how we deal with that,” says CEO and co-founder Chad Hurley. “Because we really are a community, we want to build things for our users and not alienate them.”

Poverty Tourism?

Nominated for 10 Oscars and a best-picture favorite heading into tonight’s Academy Awards, the popular Slumdog Millionaire is translating to more rubberneckers in the Mumbai, India, slum where it was filmed and is re-igniting a debate over the ethics of “poverty tourism.”
British director Danny Boyle’s film follows an orphan who grows up in Dharavi, one of the world’s poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods, and who finds improbable success on India’s version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.

The movie’s recent premiere in Mumbai sparked complaints among some of Dharavi’s estimated 1 million residents, who live and work in an area smaller than New York’s Central Park. But it also has boosted business for Reality Tours and Travel, which leads eight to 15 tourists a day on guided tours of the slum.

Reality Tours co-founder Chris Way estimates that sales are up by about 25% since Slumdog Millionaire’s release. Though he credits some of the increase to a gradual rebound in tourism after terrorist attacks in Mumbai killed more than 170 people in November, publicity surrounding the film has played a big role.

According to Way In India, “a lot of people think the movie is ‘poverty porn,’ But any criticism of his tours “comes from misunderstanding what we are trying to do … break down the negative image of slums, (and) highlight the industry and sense of community.”
Reality Tours charges $10 or $20 a person, depending on length of the tour, and pledges to donate 80% of after-tax profits to local charities. Though the business hasn’t yet cleared a profit, it paid for a community center.

Mumbai is one of several destinations to offer “poorism” options. In New Delhi, the non-profit Salaam Baalak Trust, spearheaded by Salaam Bombay! filmmaker Mira Nair, leads tours focusing on children living in and near the city’s train station.

forays take visitors to slums in Rio,Nairobi and Johannesburg. In New Orleans, companies offered post-Katrina tours that included the hard-hit Ninth Ward.

“If one takes such a tour out of a genuine desire to learn and a passion for social justice, the experience can be valuable, eye-opening, even life-changing. If one goes as a spectator, it’s little different than a visit to the zoo,” says Jeff Greenwald, executive director of Ethicaltraveler.org..

“Part of the key is interaction,” he adds. “Do visitors get to speak with these individuals, and gain a sense of their lives? … If not, this is the modern equivalent of watching people suffer in public coliseums.”

I have been there many times and it is only be seeing it live that you get a sense of the magnitude of the plight of the children there.

Virtual Flirting

A Cambridge firm said it is making an application available that will transform the iPhone into an ideal mobile device for “virtual flirting.”
The company is Viximo, which says it specializes in technologies that “enhance communication and open massive monetization opportunities for social networks, online gaming and dating social applications, consumer brands, and digital creators.”

In a press release out today, Viximo noted that more than half of the 50 to 100 text messages sent daily by the average person between the ages of 14 and 24 are “flirtatious in nature.” The company added that its TrueFlirt application will enable iPhone users in this lovestruck demographic – as well as technically savvy older folks – to send romantic text messages that not only feature animated imagery but that are also capable of responding to “user interaction.”

For example, a geeky Romeo or Juliet can send “a virtual love potion that bubbles and pours” when the recipients of such a billet-doux tap or shake their mobile devices, said Viximo, which added that another option is a “virtual fortune cookie that can be opened by shaking to reveal a tempting prediction” about the love bird’s “blossoming romance.”

Viximo calls such electronic missives “Flirts,”and its press released said, “The app comes preloaded with 11 irresistibly interactive Flirts.”

The TrueFlirt application also seeks to exploit the iPhone’s touch-screen features. Pushing the envelope of decorum to a degree that might even make an immoderate Hotspur blush, the press release went on to note that users of the TrueFlirt application “can even ‘set the mood’ with an over-the-top-kitschy bachelor pad Flirt, where users can tap objects in the scene to uncover sexy essentials like a hidden waterbed and disco ball.”

The graphic above this post, which was provided by Viximo, shows how the virtual bachelor pad looks on the iPhone screen.

Viximo chief executive Rob Frasca, said “TrueFlirt was designed to make flirting less stressful, more playful, and fun. The iPhone is an ideal device for adding a deeper layer to the social dialogue and taking the art of flirting up a notch with the TrueFlirt app.”