Sex, drugs and ring tones: here comes the mobile soap

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The Independent Online

The Dutch gave the world Big Brother, so you have to believe them when they say that the next big thing will be soap operas on your picture mobile.

Up to 30,000 Dutch subscribers are already hooked on a drama called Jong Zuid (Young South), the adventures of beautiful but gullible Daya and her hip housemates in a fashionable district of Amsterdam, with plenty of sex, drugs, glamour and turbulent relationships. After registering on-line, they receive two episodes daily, each consisting of a strip cartoon-style sequence of six pictures and accompanying texts. The cost is €1.10 (75p) a week, soon to be reduced to 70 cents. And a British edition is in the works.

A recent episode had Daya discovering that Bas, the wealthy boyfriend with whom she is infatuated, has made his fortune out of drug trafficking. Suspecting that one of his bodyguards is trying to steal a shipment, Bas is trying to use her to find out what is going on. Rather than risk being shot, Daya flees her lover's yacht and goes to her parents' house to lie low.

A mainly young, female audience has been following Jong Zuid, played by stars of similar soaps on Dutch TV, for several months. When the makers held an audition for guest roles in the series, including a sexy waitress, a dope dealer and a sports instructor, more than 5,000 wannabes turned up.

Lara de Boer, a 17-year-old student, looks forward to picking up her evening dose of Jong Zuid on her way home from school in the provincial town of Leeuwarden. "Their lives seem so exciting," she said. "I live on a farm way out in the country and nothing ever seems to happen. I can't wait to move to Amsterdam and go to great parties and have adventures like them."

Her best friend Karin added: "The episodes where Nicci, who works in a nursery, lost one of the children and panicked, telling everyone it had been kidnapped, were nail-biting. I couldn't wait to see what would happen."

Their enthusiasm seemed lost on some. "I don't text much myself, so I can't understand a lot of the text slang," admitted Jan, an office administrator. "It's like another language to me." But that may be the point: since he is 32, he falls outside the drama's 18-to-30 target demographic.

The Dutch production company is taking the format to Germany, and hopes to start up in Britain in April. It says stars will include Will Mellor, of Casualty fame, Lorna Pegler from the Sky TV drama Is Harry on the Boat? and Hollyoaks heart-throb Martino Lazzeri. The London-based version of the soap will follow the storylines of Jong Zuid - with one key exception.

"The social issues which interest and concern young people - safe sex, unwanted pregnancy and drugs - will be explored. But we may have to tone down a bit on the drugs stuff, because attitudes in Britain are different," said Douwe Dirks, of the Amsterdam-based production company Media Republic.

Sales of camera phones in the Netherlands, particularly pre-paid ones to young people, have risen noticeably in the wake of Jong Zuid's launch and the media attention it is receiving, according to Marcel Beusen, business development spokesman for Telfort, a mobile phone company.

Other sponsors include the likes of Pepsi, Sony, Ericsson and Durex, which may help to account for the heavy promotion of safe sex in the drama.