New Directions In Mobile is Pandoras box unleashed

Where to start with New Directions In Mobile, the NMK event held on Tuesday 3rd October at 01ZeroOne in deepest Soho?

It was all in the mix – mobile TV, the mobile web, business models, user-generated content, statistical trends, and brands on mobile. Lordy. Just beam me down now, I’ll feed it all to you over my super-bionic network in a nano-second, and shazzam! Well maybe…

But really, you had to be there. For now, I’ll share a good few highlights.

Stats and factoids

Among the choice trends detailed by m:metrics’ Paul Goode, the news that ringtones are in decline has gained a lot of coverage this week. Paul Walsh of Segala added the caveat that people are downloading less but increasingly creating their own ringtones. In turn, if you think that mobile gaming (a booming sector) is for the boys, smell the coffee – it’s more balanced between genders and 70% of consumption takes place among over 24-year-olds.

Demographics, however, reveal mixed news for the handset manufacturers – Nokia have increased their handset share in 3G services in the UK among older users, while Sony Ericsson lead the younger market.

The UK is a test-bed for 3G services with 10% of the population owning a 3G phone. We lead Europe for mobile video downloads but France has the edge on mobile TV viewing.

Mobile TV disrupts…

Steve Flaherty of mobile innovation consultancy Ketai Culture cut to the chase, and boy did he whet the appetite of students of disruption. Move over YouTube, mobile is gonna upset your business (and creative) production and distribution model, and then some…

Phones themselves won’t be the only terminals for mobile TV – enter the PSP, the Video iPod, and antennas for laptops (via DMB in Britain; DV-BH in Europe). The likely uptake of mobile TV has always been a moot point, but Steve revealed that Vodafone has signed up over 1 million subscribers [Correction: Steve has contacted me to let me know it was rather that Vodafone had delivered a million TV sessions in the first 3 weeks] in the first three weeks of launching their Sky mobile TV service. Could the simplicity of the concept of “Sky on your mobile” plus reliability of the Sky brand be a factor I wonder….

Lookout – brand channels incoming!

While there are similarities to TV, Steve noted, it’s in the differences that the opportunities and challenges of mobile TV reside: limited or no EPG; short programme formats; streamed rather than broadcast (for now); non-TV brands making an impact; channels dedicated to single programmes. And the last two factors open a Pandora’s box…

They have the power to re-cast our relationship with TV, just as the web has; and massively extend the opportunity for non-TV brands (which reminded me of the hugely successful Hallmark channel – a card company scores as a TV company – who’d have predicted that?); yet the value of mobile video on demand is still being hamstrung by network operators’ business models and high data charges to the consumer. But for a glimpse of the converged, multiplatform future, reflect for a minute on this: the most popular TV channel on Orange is FHM TV.

If shareholder certainties are uppermost in your mind, you’re in for some sleepless nights folks, as the roles of broadcasters, mobile operators and aggregators are still to be defined, Steve stressed. But as the entire market enters a transitionary period, who can afford not to innovate?

Clock ticking for walled gardens

Alfie Dennen of Moblog UK underlined the imperative for network operators (not just start-ups and brands) to innovate. They’ve created a system that has built-in obsolescence, so they should have the foresight to experiment and adapt services and business models to secure their future existence. They’re waking up to the fact that they need to start behaving more like mobile ISPs.

Paul Walsh of Segala raised the interesting point that the end-result of stripping stuff out of websites to make them work and easy to navigate on mobile can often be perceived as damaging to brands ie. removing graphics, advertising, logos and other so-called funky stuff. While at the minute WAP is a far superior experience to the mobile [open] web, he added, the issue is that you have no freedom on WAP, it’s yet another walled garden.

Accessibility vs. snack-mode culture

He championed following the W3C accessibility guidelines, which override the need to create your website twice (once for web, and again for mobile), because a by-product of the W3C guidelines is that your site will work well on mobile too. Plus the web will detect what device the user is using and the device capability, and tailor delivery of the website to fit that phone [cool, but apparently it slows down the browsing experience]. But this seemed to side-step the issue of content suited to the mobile device and the user’s context.

A whole new vista was then opened to me by one of Paul’s remarks. While we are obsessed with content-on-the-go, mobile snacking and mobisodes, we seem to forget that the way most people in the world will access the internet is via mobile.

So while affluent Westerners wired with broadband at home might lap up tailored content on their handset, people in India and Africa might be happy to get the full episodes, the full essay, the whole motherlode of information on the web on their phone, as in the main they have no alternative. Don’t factor that in at you peril and don’t assume that you know what your users want!

Collaborate with your community

Listening to the users was at the very heart of Alfie’s perspective, and he opened with a superlative rant on the part of the consumer that Ewan has published here.

With MoblogUK they canvassed users right from the outset and let them submit in competition their own designs for re-skinning Moblog pages. While responses may have been limited to people with design skills (but 80 submitted designs was great feedback for a start-up barely off the blocks!), it was a fantastic way of garnering feedback and understanding of the market from the get-go.

It’s so easy for anyone to use a wiki or a forum to collect further feedback. But who else even thinks of asking the question, Alfie remarked.

Consumers know what’s good for them…

Uptake of disruptive services is steadily creeping upwards as better and more innovative alternatives are launched and developed. Shozu and Juvino were two that Alfie rated highly. Enabling the freeflow of content between your digital spaces was another feature Moblog embraced with send to “my Blogger”, “my Delicious”, “email this” and “Digg this” buttons recently added to the Moblog user toolset. Creative Commons licencing is also offered.

Richard Hurring from Marvellous noted that the permanent world of mobile presence is coming to brands and he explained why the mobile channel is so important for brands: it allows for impulse interaction and purchase as it’s anytime, any place and anywhere; it gives people and brands the power to interact; it drives control for users; and it’s an active (not passive) medium.

As the number of people with 3G phones is now equal to the number of households with broadband, more people will connect, Richard added, and he cited Peugeot (who have launched three cars with Marvellous) and Carling’s London barfinder (downloadable via WAP) as instances where thought-through mobile branding has really come to life.

Advertising forecasts and marketing response rates

A salient point from Beep Marketing’s Helen Keegan was that consumers, as ever, seem to be two steps ahead of businesses and brands when it comes to mobile. She cited research from Jupiter (released September 2006) that said mobile advertising spend will reach £2 billion pounds in the UK by 2010.

The more granular findings underlying that bold forecast highlighted the shift in consumer mindsets. Almost half of 16 to 25 year-olds said they were happy to accept adverts in return for free content, and 30% said they would be likely to respond to marketing messages (though the medium for the call to action – posters, TV ads, print, mobile itself – was not stated). A further 25% said they’d respond to mobile marketing specifically, and this was equally split between the sexes.

Bountiful options…

Helen went on to outline the opportunities and trends in ad-funded content, mobile advertising, sponsored SMS, selling your list (not-so-good), branded content, sponsored content, off-the-page promotion, subscription models, user-generated content and wholesale. Phew, so many options! It was a rich summary of the business landscape where you can make money now. But still, many brands’ mobile activities are poor, spam-like, or non-existent.

There were loads of other nuggets, case studies and interesting debates, but like I said, you had to be there. One Irish mobile marketing start-up even sent two delegates over from Dublin to attend. As Helen recently said, mobile isn’t going away any time soon. And the whole sector is ripe for transformation.

So next time there’s a mobile event anywhere of this calibre folks, get yourself along! :-) Mobile Mondays are recommended and hopefully we’ll have a B&I soon that goes deeper into this area.

In the meantime, if disruption, content aggregation and new business models more generally float your boat, there’s still a few places left for Beers & Innovation 5 on 17th October.

[UPDATE: I've removed the apostrophe from Pandora's in the title as it makes the URL kinda crazy, so the URL has changed. As for the new punctuation, am expecting a call from Lynne Truss any minute... paranoia induced by journalism background etc. Use of etc induced by too much GapingVoid etc]

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2 responses to “New Directions In Mobile is Pandoras box unleashed

  1. great round up and a fab event! So good, it’s been included in this week’s Carnival of the Mobilists here: http://technokitten.blogspot.com/2006/10/carnival-of-mobilists-no-48.html

  2. Gosh, thanks! The travelling Carnival is a great idea and your turn at it this week offers lots more goodies for the community :-)

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