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Firm not content with handheld programming

Gazette-Times reporter, 10/22/01

Jerry Saveriano has seen the future in a PDA - and he wants to grab a big slice of it for Oregon.

With Palm-type personal digital assistants rapidly eclipsing day planners and Internet-enabled cell phones flooding onto the market, Saveriano believes America is poised on the brink of the biggest technological revolution since the World Wide Web. But even though millions of us can already access the Internet with these handheld wireless devices, there's a serious bottleneck holding that revolution back.

"The technology's not the problem—it's the lack of good, compelling content," said Saveriano, CEO of Sanda Communications, a Corvallis advertising, marketing and public relations firm that opened an office in Portland's Creative Services District last year.

So far, no one's figured out how to deliver high-quality online video, animation, games, maps and so forth on a 4-inch PDA screen, much less a 1-inch cell phone screen. When they do, the revolution will begin—and Saveriano wants it to begin in Portland.

To that end, Sanda Communications is pitching the idea of the world's first Small Screen Media Festival, to be held in Portland in March.

"The idea of the conference is to bring the best creative people from around the world together with the best technical people and let them mix it up," Saveriano said.

The festival would feature a technology expo, but the focal point would be a contest to call attention to the best new content and emerging technologies for small screen applications - the Smallee Awards.

The awards would embrace entertainment, advertising, user interface, mapping, games, manuals and other products for mobile devices such as cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players, Global Positioning System units, in-car computers, personal game players and handheld computers.

The Software Association of Oregon and the Oregon Creative Services Alliance have already signed on as sponsors, and Sanda has built and launched a Web site to promote the idea. Jim Johnson, an art director for the company, has designed a statuette that features a hand holding a crystal ball—"to symbolize the future," Saveriano said - and a battery-powered mini-screen to display the winning entry.

The next step is to line up some big money corporate sponsors that would have an interest in the products and technologies the festival is designed to foster. Saveriano said he plans to approach Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Qualcomm, Verizon and Microsoft (which recently became a Sanda client), among others.

"There's going to be a whole new thing, and I'd like it to be born in Portland," Saveriano said.

He thinks the conference could secure a place for Portland as a hub of the nascent small screen content industry - an industry that seems poised for explosive growth. Research firm IDC is predicting that the number of U.S. wireless subscribers will rocket from last year's total of 5 million to more than 84 million in 2005. In addition, IDC is forecasting a dramatic upsurge in wireless Internet use beginning in 2003 as networks get faster, applications get better and new devices hit the consumer market.

"There'll be a PDA in every hand," Sanda said, "but what are you going to play on it? That's what the Smallees answers."
Although Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco or even Seattle might seem a likelier locale for such an event, Saveriano believes Portland and its burgeoning Creative Services District have the brainpower to make the Small Screen Media Festival happen.

"There's plenty of technical talent, and there's plenty of creative talent," he said. "What we've got to do is get them together to exploit this new medium."

Jeanette Pilak, executive director of the Oregon Creative Services Alliance, agreed with that assessment. The Portland area, she said, is home to numerous spinoffs of such heavy hitters as Nike, Intel, Mentor Graphics and Hewlett-Packard. These companies employ an army of free-lancers and small shops for both technical and creative work, so the area has a high-quality work force in place.

"We like to be first here in Oregon. We think we have some firms doing nationally and internationally recognized work, but nobody knows who they are here at home," she said. "We're doing the work, we just want to get recognition for it."

Pilak also pointed out that Portland has already hosted some significant world festivals this year, including the International Electronic Cinema Festival and last week's world premiere of the Philip Glass Film Festival.

She thinks Sanda is well qualified to lead the coalition backing the plan, and she's hoping the economic benefits of hosting the Small Screen Media Festival will persuade city, regional and state agencies to help out with funding.

"They definitely have the experience and the resources to put it together, and I think they definitely have the relationships to say, `This is how we get this done,'" she said.

"It's just a win-win for the city, the region, the state and for business, and it's something that everybody wants to make happen."

Naturally, Sanda's interest in creating the event is not entirely selfless. The company specializes in high-tech clients, and Saveriano hopes to land some new accounts among the firms competing for a Smallee statuette.

"With all these things, we know they're going to happen. There's two things we don't know: When's it going to hit, and who's going to make money doing it?" Saveriano said. "Sanda has created the Small Screen Media Festival so we can get a look at all the players."

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The Smallee statuette. Created by Jim Johnson, an assistant art director at Sanda Communications in Corvallis, the statuette features a hand holding a crystal ball, with a battery-powered display screen.