Sunday, November 18, 2007

download aim

IT'S not uncommon to see tourists frantically trying to regain their bearings in the winding streets of Cambridge.

But that is all set to change, as the launch of a handheld electronic "guidebook" propels sightseeing in the city into the mobile age.

The revolutionary Pocket Cambridge scheme, which will be active by Easter 2008, will allow tourists to download audio tours and information to their wi-fi enabled pocket device as they wander through our historic lanes.

3G mobile phones will also be able to access the tours, and it is hoped that GPS technology will enable devices to offer the listener information automatically, according to their location.

Alternatively, travellers will be able to download tours, which feature atmospheric music and sound effects, from the internet onto an iPod or MP3 player before setting off on their trip.

Pocket Cambridge is the brainchild of inventor Mark Oakden, and a similar scheme is already operational in Norwich.

Mark said: "The aim is to offer visitors a personalised guided tour when and where they want it.

"It's been very well received in Norwich, but it was really designed with a place like Cambridge in mind, which is on a completely different level in terms of tourism."

Mark added: "We are not looking to give history lessons - we want to tell interesting stories about the city. And since we recognise that it's mostly younger people who use wi-fi devices, we will also be looking to provide downloadable ghost walks, shopping tours and pub crawls."

Mark hopes to offer the tours free of charge, by utilising "intelligent advertising", which would promote restaurants and attractions in close proximity to the user.

But the human tour guides won't find themselves out of a job just yet, according to Mark.

"We foresee Pocket Cambridge working alongside existing tour guides, and we would be happy to advertise them," he said.

"You can't replace a real life guide - not yet, at least!"

THE swashbuckling exploits of Captain Jack Sparrow and his scurvy mates have been followed by millions of children around the world. Early next year Britain's would-be pirates will get a chance to join the crew.

Disney is preparing to launch a British version of Pirates of the Caribbean online, a game where players can create their own pirate character and form crews with other participants, sailing the seven seas in search of booty.

Before Pirates of the Caribbean is revamped, Disney will launch a British version of Club Penguin, a hugely popular web-site aimed at preteens where players can live a virtual life as a colourful penguin. The company is also overhauling to be more closely tailored to the British market.

The company's American site,, was recently relaunched with a team in north Hollywood rejigging the content twice a week. New shows are added, old ones dropped, games are launched. And the audience likes it. In August the channel received a record 23m visitors, 24% more than a year ago.

After years of false starts, the internet is now at the forefront of the Disney empire.

The digital renaissance is coming in the nick of time as television executives start to sweat about declining audiences and children � early adopters of technology � increasingly turn to the internet for their entertainment.

Research by the children's television channel Nickelodeon found that 86% of 8 to 14-year-olds are playing games online, more than 51% are watching television shows and videos online and 37% are sending instant messages. Traditional television viewing is still strong in the youngest audience but by the time they reach their teens, the internet is winning out. In the long run, media companies that fail to keep up with their net-savvy kids may not have an audience at all.

So far two firms have emerged as the biggest players for kids online, Disney and Nickelodeon's parent company Viacom.

When it comes to grabbing children's attention, Viacom is Disney's closest rival. Nickelodeon is home to Spongebob Squarepants, Jimmy Neutron and a host of world famous cartoon characters. The company's 2005 acquisition of Neopets, a virtual world of digital cuddly pets, now looks pioneering and, at $160m (£80m), cheap. Earlier this year Disney spent $350m buying Club Penguin.

Nickelodeon has announced a $100m expansion of its online casual gaming ventures. The money will go towards new mul-ti-player online games, virtual worlds and gaming titles during the next two years.

While Disney was an early, and not always successful, fan of the internet, Steve Wadsworth, president of the Walt Disney internet group, said that it was only in the last one or two years that the internet had truly emerged as an equal to the company's television channels, theme parks and films.

"The beauty of the internet," said Wadsworth, "is that it can do so many different things." For shows like Hannah Montana, High School Musical and Power Rangers, Disney has set up special events, interactive worlds and online games.

"People look at Disney as a world and it means different things to different people. To some its about films, for others its about a character or the theme parks," said Wadsworth. "And there are world's within worlds, so for a 13-year-old boy it may be about Pirates of the Caribbean."

"It's a bit like taking the idea of a theme park and recreating it in a virtual space."

The two firms have markedly different approaches to kids in cyberspace. Steve Youngwood, executive vice-president of digital media at MTVN, the Viacom division that runs Nickelodeon, said the aim of his sites, including, was to be "a home base for kids and teens".

"But we need to be open. We need, too, to go beyond what we produce," he added.

Youngwood points to Viacom's purchase of, a site that offers hundreds of online games and directs visitors to other gaming websites. "Anyone who likes gaming can come back to us and know they can trust us as a filter," he said. will also carry advertisements for films and television shows that are not Viacom products.

For Disney the online experience is about remaining true to the Disney universe. It may not carry other people's advertisements on but the company creates so much content that it hardly needs to look outside its own kingdom. Disney has been creating virtual worlds from its inception and has "a deeper toy box" than most of its rivals, said one executive at Disney.

While both sites charge subscriptions, Neopets carries ads while Club Penguin is ad-free. Disney feels it is inappropriate to aim ads at such a young audience. Other observers are more cynical. "Club Penguin is basi-cally a big ad for itself," said one media executive.

When it comes to older children and adults, sites like MySpace, YouTube and Face-book, where people create their own "user-generated" content, have attracted big audiences.

Wadsworth said Disney's strategy was to allow children to be creative but within Disney's context. It's a model that has proved successful elsewhere. World of Warcraft, an online game where players undertake magical quests as wizards, dwarves and elves, has 9.3m players world-wide. Second Life, a virtual community where people have to create their own characters and decide how to spend their time, claims millions have set up accounts in its world but only a fraction of those people are regular visitors.

Children want to be creative and feel "empowered" said Youngwood. "But they also need to be given the right tools," he said. An open platform like YouTube where users can put up any video they have created would not work as well for a younger audience.

"The communities on Face-book or YouTube are relatively small. People don't tend to have more than 20, 30 or 100 friends," said Wadsworth. Providing a context brings far more people together. As everyone is clearer on what they are buying it also makes it easier for Disney to sell the idea to advertisers and to charge parents for subscriptions ($5.95 a month in America).

Parents will soon be coughing up for mobile-phone features too. Both firms have been developing their mobile plans. Wadsworth believes that in the near future mobile devices will be just another way to access the internet and is developing his strategy accordingly.

Disney has had some setbacks in mobile. Its attempts to launch its own phones in America ended in failure. Now it is going into partnership with mobile operators and has studios in Prague, Hollywood and Beijing developing mobile content.

Its biggest mobile market is Japan, where girls download Disney ringtones and images of characters. Japan also has a Disney-themed virtual world, Disney Wonder Days, that can be accessed via mobile devices.

"The PC connected to the internet is far more robust than mobile at this point, particularly for our demographic," said Wadsworth. "But mobile is increasingly becoming an important platform." Given the vulnerable nature of their audience, both companies work hard to ensure their safety. But often it is the kids themselves who get out of hand. Swearing is electronically banned on Disney's messaging systems but some users have found creative ways round it. For a while, until a sharp-eyed Disney employee added the phrase to the banned list, kids were describing something good as "sofa king great".

Disney and Viacom executives could be forgiven for using similar terms for their now profitable internet ventures. Now all they have to worry about is the rest of the empire.

Gentle approach: Disney won't allow advertisements on its Club Penguin site. Phone and internet companies are about to begin testing video services over broadband in an attempt to increase revenues and take a slice of the movie rental market.

CallPlus residential brand Slingshot said it would begin offering its existing customers a trial movie download service next year.

Slingshot head Mark Callander said subscribers would use their broadband connection to download movies and television programmes to their PCs. From there, video files will be transmitted to a TV set-top box.

Ideally, customers would programme movies to download overnight or during the day, although Callander said it would be possible to be able to begin watching a partially downloaded movie while the download continued to run in the background.

Slingshot is using New Zealand company YuVU to manage the content and in-home technology platform.

"The challenge we have is putting all this together," said Callander. "It makes sense to partner."

Callander said the company would be targeting the market currently served by video chains and online DVD rental businesses rather than competing with Sky TV. The video rental/retail market is estimated to be worth $250 million.

AdvertisementHe said during the testing stage content would not include blockbusters, but classic movies and television shows.

Orcon chief executive Scott Bartlett said it too would try out a video service as part of the local loop unbundling trial currently running at the Ponsonby exchange.

He said a selection of Orcon staff and customers attached to the exchange would begin testing software and set-top boxes this week.

Bartlett said a service with a range of content would be available free to customers in "unbundled" exchanges where Orcon can install its own broadband equipment.

"When we take LLU to market, we'll take IPTV [internet protocol TV] to market at the same time."

In the past Telecom has expressed interest in IPTV and spokesperson Mark Watts said it was still on the drawing board. However, he said the company's focus was on building its Next Generation access network which would support a wide range of innovative services.


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