“The Power to Entertain Yourself: Mobile Video Strikes Out (Again)”

Curator's Note

On June 2, 2007, the cell phone startup Amp’d Mobile filed for bankruptcy, marking yet another inauspicious milestone in the still-brief history of mobile video. Amp’d had staked its brand identity on the multimedia content it delivers to its subscribers’ handsets. But despite the backing of investors like MTV, and despite having secured the rights to distribute programming from ABC, Comedy Central, and a host of other networks, as of June Amp’d had managed to sign up only 175,000 customers. As was the case with ESPN Mobile, another multimedia cell phone service that closed its doors in December 2006, Amp’d’s failure is also the failure of a particular vision of mobile video’s meanings, uses, and audience. This vision is particularly well-illustrated by Amp’d’s television ads. In this ad, a bored passenger on a city bus springs from his seat and begins issuing commands to his fellow passengers. As the bus lurches into mayhem, a graphic reading “Have the power to entertain yourself” appears on screen. In the tradition of Bumfights – the notorious video series in which a group of young men paid homeless people to fight or perform dangerous stunts on camera – the ad equates the “power to entertain oneself” with using digital video technology to humiliate anonymous and obedient urban subalterns. As more and more mobile video services fail to find an audience, many have been quick to lay the blame on the limits of existing hardware and network infrastructure. Rejecting this technological determinist rationale prompts us to consider other ways of reconciling the spectacular failures of ESPN Mobile, Amp’d, and other mobile video ventures. For example, are these failures indications that consumers are indifferent to the prospect of “anywhere, anytime” video? Or, conversely, might we interpret them as evidence of consumers’ aversion to the nearly unavoidable image of the mobile viewer as that asshole on the bus or train who uses his cell phone to aggressively impose his will on those around him?

Comments

Jonathan Gray's picture

I'm fascinated by how a lot

I’m fascinated by how a lot of ads like this try to sell such conspicuous and over the top signs of privilege and control: being able to tell women to shake their “junks” and so forth.

Here, the fantasy of control and power is so redundant, since the dude with the Amp’d Up is already coded as the privileged one by race and clothing: he hardly needs the phone. Maybe then, the advertisers pounced on the wrong racialized myth, trying to speak to the desire to control rather than the desire to escape “the urban jungle” (ie: the desire that walkmen, ipods, and PSPs seemed to offer, even if not in explicit terms at all times). The latter is realizable after all — mobile media *can* help transport one out of the humdrum of a long commute — but the former is either already present (as with middle class white dude on the bus here. did his car break down today?) or not at all promiseable.

"As was the case with ESPN

As was the case with ESPN Mobile, another multimedia cell phone service that closed its doors in December 2006, Amp’d’s failure is also the failure of a particular vision of mobile video’s meanings, uses, and audience…For example, are these failures indications that consumers are indifferent to the prospect of “anywhere, anytime” video?”

While the Amp’d advertisement pursues the perceived appeal of empowerment, the ESPN Mobile commercials actually appealed to what I think will ultimately prove to be the success of mobile media entertainment: the capacity to interlace entertainment content with one’s location. (Unfortunately, ESPN failed to deliver on the dream its commercials presented.)

I, for one, don’t think consumers are necessarily indifferent to “anytime anywhere”, but I do believe they are indifferent to nothing more than tired, repurposed content on a tiny screen.

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