HBO to Stream Shows to Cingular Wireless Phones

Cingular Wireless will bring clips of popular HBO shows, including "The Sopranos," to its mobile phones following an exclusive three-year pact with the Time Warner Inc. (TWX) unit, company executives said on Thursday.

Cingular, a venture of AT&T Inc. and BellSouth Corp. (BLS), hopes the service will convince customers to spend their downtime looking at short clips on cellphones running on a high-speed network it is building.

"Now you can turn a boring everyday moment into an opportunity to escape," Cingular's Chief Operating Officer Ralph de la Vega said at a press event announcing the deal.

Both companies' revenue from the deal will increase as the number of subscribers increase, de la Vega said, but did not disclose detailed financial terms of the deal.

The pair plan to kick off a subscription service in a few weeks with clips of hit shows for both adults and children from HBO, the most widely watched U.S. premium cable TV networks.

HBO is also developing cellphone-only content with performers such as Sarah Jessica Parker, the star of HBO's "Sex in the City" TV show, and comedian Dane Cook, as well as hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons.

The clips will initially run on a phone from LG Electronics Inc. and another from Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. with more phone models to follow, Cingular said.

Ovum analyst Roger Entner said the pact was a key win for Cingular over cable providers and Sprint Nextel Corp. (S), which is setting up a wireless venture with four of the top U.S. cable providers.

"Suddenly the best show on cable is not working with its traditional partners," he said. "Its certainly a body blow for the cable consortium and Sprint."

The deal may also help boost Cingular's image as a provider of advanced cellphone services.

Wireless providers the world over are developing services, such as music and video for mobile phones, in an effort to extend revenue sources beyond voice services.

But while Cingular has been quick to be the first U.S. operator to align itself with popular brands such as Motorola Inc. (MOT)'s Razr phone and the iTunes-based music phones, it is behind rivals in its plans for a high-speed network.

The first HBO offerings for Cingular will be limited to a subscription service for short clips of up to about 4 minutes. But the companies could expand to full length shows or pay-per-view purchases, Cingular executives said.

"I think the real coming of age will be over the next 12 to 18 months," said Cingular's head of data services, Jim Ryan.

HBO gave Cingular, which has about 25 percent of U.S. wireless subscribers, the exclusive three-year deal because of its position as the biggest U.S. mobile service, according to HBO's chief executive, Chris Albrecht.

The exclusivity pact does not prevent HBO from providing its content to Apple Computer Inc.(AAPL)'s video iPod, according to Albrecht, who said HBO hopes to have an arrangement with Apple in the future.