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CTIA: Creating the Next YouTube

5:00 PM -- The CTIA show in San Francisco this year was like a mobile content iceberg. Much of the interesting stuff around the latest wave of mobile content happened behind closed doors at events and cocktail receptions rather than on the show floor itself.

For sure, some of the big names -- or wannabe big names -- in mobile content were represented at the show. A Facebook founder gave his keynote; Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) had maybe the largest booth at the entire show; and Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) was in evidence on the BlackBerry BlackBerry standard. (See CTIA Show Reel No.1 and Facebook (Geezer Edition).)

The content and the startups driving it, however, were largely absent from the two-hall exhibit floor. Aside from a small mobile video cluster, I couldn't find much in the way of social networking, multimedia, or gaming companies in the halls.

Stealth startup mobile content companies, however, were around in droves at the Accel Partners event on Wednesday night. I met a number of startups working on interesting applications that want to stay under wraps for the time being.

What become clear, however, is that somehow recreating YouTube Inc. -- and presumably its billion-dollar buyout -- is a key goal for many of these startups and their venture backers. Three of the people I spoke to directly referenced creating a mobile audio or video take on the YouTube model as a goal for their company, or the company they were investing in.

Sensibly, many want to use existing technology -- multimedia picture sharing or voicemail -- to create audio- and video-sharing mobile content communities rather than developing separate video players and codecs. I've written for our sister site, Contentinople, about how the lack of standards -- official or otherwise -- could be a hinderance for the adoption of mobile video. It's difficult to get phone vendors or carriers to support such code from small vendors and hard to get a player on the phone. (See The Trouble With Mobile Video and MMS: A Simple Way to Mobile Vids.)

Riding on existing infrastructure as much as possible seems to be the best way to approach the mobile content business at the moment. There will be enough work involved in developing the applications, encouraging content development, and working with vendors and carriers, without also re-inventing the wheel.

Many of these startups say they will soon launch for real -- late this year or early next. I expect CES will be busier than ever this year. There's a question, however, over whether mobile content startups can become as highly valued as the more established desktop players such as YouTube. I still think that many startups are taking ideas from the PC world that cannot work as well on a mobile phone, simply because the screen will make it less enjoyable to watch anything but short bursts of content.

Either phone screens will need to get bigger or startups will have to more completely rethink what "mobile content" actually is.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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