An Unlikely Promoter Drives Nokia’s Push in Hollywood
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Tero Ojanpera is an unlikely media entrepreneur. Mr. Ojanpera, a veteran Nokia executive, is not a fan of “American Idol,” although he says he enjoys it from time to time. And when he tried to watch a recent episode of “Hannah Montana,” one of his sons switched the channel.
But four years ago, Mr. Ojanpera and his colleagues in the research center had an epiphany: that entertainment was crucial to the future of Nokia, the Finnish mobile phone maker. Within a year, Mr. Ojanpera, who earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering, was cruising the palm-tree-lined streets of Beverly Hills, meeting with technology-wary studio executives who greeted him as coolly as a producer pitching a sequel to “Ishtar.”
“They were like, ‘Is this for real?’ ” Mr. Ojanpera (pronounced oy-an-pera) recently recalled.
Indeed, it was. While once formidable competitors like Motorola struggle just to deliver their phones on time, Nokia wants to transform itself into a next-generation entertainment company. Last August, Nokia, the world’s largest cellphone maker, created Ovi, an Internet service and online music store. Its intent, analysts say, is to compete directly against Apple.
Nokia is also positioning itself as a promoter of social networking, with photo and video sharing and games for users of its cellphones. That is because Nokia predicts that in the next five years, mobile phone users will create 25 percent of the entertainment watched on so-called smartphones, like the iPhone and BlackBerries. And just as important to the company’s strategy is users who will share that entertainment.
Music will be important, too. Nokia joined with Sony BMG and the Universal Music Group, which have agreed to give consumers a year’s worth of free downloads they can keep indefinitely as long as they buy and use specific Nokia models.
And to overcome Apple’s formidable lead in delivering digital entertainment to handheld devices, Mr. Ojanpera wants to bridge the gap between musicians and filmmakers and their fans, allowing consumers to get exclusive concert video and recordings or collaborate directly with artists like the director Spike Lee, whom Nokia hired recently to oversee a mobile video sharing and social networking project.
This is unfamiliar territory for Nokia, which got its start in the mid-1800s as a paper maker. But as Mr. Ojanpera explained, companies like his have no choice. “Change is painful, but you have to figure this out in order to be successful,” said Mr. Ojanpera, who is based in White Plains. “The question is, are you willing to play by the new rules?”
The task of negotiating with self-important media moguls, though, is likely to be as tricky for Mr. Ojanpera as it was for Steven P. Jobs, Apple’s chief executive, who met resistance from entertainment companies and wireless carriers unwilling to give up a measure of control.
Mr. Ojanpera is deliberate in conversation, weighing his words carefully, and he lacks the outsized personality of Mr. Jobs. In a recent interview he was reluctant to take much credit — “It is not the Finnish way,” he said — or draw attention to his fast rise up Nokia’s corporate ranks. But those who have worked with him suggest his skill is finding the middle ground in any negotiation. When jostling with the Universal Music Group to offer its catalog on Nokia phones, Mr. Ojanpera agreed to support a plan that would make it easy for musicians to get their concert videos onto mobile phones.
“Neither of us felt we had to get the better of each other,” said Lucian Grainge, chairman and chief executive of Universal Music Group International.
While Mr. Ojanpera may lack Mr. Jobs’s charisma, he more than makes up for it with Nokia’s global might. Nokia sells 14 mobile phones a second — tallying worldwide market share of 39 percent. That reach gives entertainment executives an enticing international platform over which to digitally distribute movies and music. The company got a head start outside the United States, where its N series of multimedia smartphones is popular. The Nokia N96, which is expected to make its debut in the United States this year, is made specifically for video and television, with high-power stereo speakers and a five-megapixel camera.
“When Nokia puts their weight behind something, they don’t need to be the first,” said Pekka Koponen, a former Nokia executive. “They can dominate the market Mr. Jobs creates for them.”
Another possible advantage for Nokia is that music companies welcome a challenger to Apple. They are wary of Apple’s growing power in digital music distribution; Apple is the top music retailer in the United States, outpacing the behemoth Wal-Mart in April.
Mr. Grainge, who negotiated the free download deal with Mr. Ojanpera, said: “To have another big global player in the mobile music business is good news. Everyone within Universal is doing what we can to make it work.”
Mr. Ojanpera was born in 1966, one of three boys, and he grew up in a small mining town in Finland. He got his first job at a Nokia research and development center where he studied radio frequencies. From his earliest days at Nokia he specialized in understanding high-speed mobile networks, the so-called third-generation, or 3G, networks that are quickly becoming the industry standard.
Before being named executive vice president for entertainment and communities in January — a job created specifically for him — Mr. Ojanpera held a number of senior management positions, including chief technology officer, chief strategy officer and head of the Nokia Research Center, where he and his colleagues studied consumer behavior and design.
But he does not perceive his lack of media experience as a hindrance. “This, to me, is about curiosity and the willingness to learn something new,” he said. “You can have really smart people, but things don’t necessarily change. The challenge is who can translate those ideas into practice.”
The future, he says, will look something like this. While consumers now can buy movie tickets, watch videos and listen to music on their phones, the process is disjointed, with no place for one-button shopping. Nokia wants to make it seamless. Want a concert ticket? Press “yes” on your keypad. Want to listen to a favorite song? Press “yes.” Watch a concert video? Buy a DVD? Read a review? Need a hotel room nearby? Post photographs to your Facebook page? Just press “yes.” “It will be that easy,” he said.
Mr. Ojanpera met Mr. Stewart more than a year ago at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and since then they have had monthly conversations, tutorials mostly, Mr. Stewart said, on how the music business works.
“We disagree on the speed of things. I’m trying to force it faster and he, quite wisely, understands he’s in a world where things exist in a certain way,” Mr. Stewart said. “Tero’s thinking is that he’s going to change the way things work and it’s going to be better. But it takes time.”
Executives are more receptive now when Mr. Ojanpera comes calling. “There is more interest,” he said. But he too is realistic. It’s not yet like the early days of the DVD explosion, when the heads of movie studios flew on their private planes to Bentonville, Ark., to woo Wal-Mart executives. But one day, maybe it will be.
“Once we start to see them make the trek to our headquarters in White Plains,” he said, “then I know things really have changed.”