Jun 072006

Yesterday I chaired the Mobile Content World Australasia 2006 Conference in Sydney and moderated a couple of panels. I gave an opening (provocative as far as an industry conference goes) address and a few people have asked for copies. So as powerpoints were banned (by the switched-on Terrappin organisers), and as my notes eventually turned into a script (I prefer not to read scripts – no room for personalised delivery!) – well I had it to hand. So here it is. Short, succinct and afterwards I list the people on the panels during the day – and when I get time I will give some opinion, add on what I thought of the event, the discussions and a few of the toys I saw such as a 3D phone and some great social network services, very cool.

Where are we? Where is mobile content on its evolutionary path? Is it well adjusted late teens or is it still a screaming adolescent? What are the real signs of maturity in the industry?

I am Gary Hayes, Director of the Laboratory of Advanced Media Production in Sydney, part of a government initiative run through the Australian Film TV and Radio School. We work with major ‘heritage’ media producers to prototype next generation cross-media services. We will have prototyped over thirty eight services by October many of which utilise mobile devices. I am originally from a digital broadcast and broadband TV background and when I was senior development producer at BBC New Media for 8 years I started out by putting the first audio, video and vr services onto broadband PC too. This makes me sound old but this was only ten years ago remember. I also worked in the US for a couple of years developing broadband TV services. The only thing mobile was useful to the broadcaster, when we were beginning Interactive TV services six years ago, was to vote, SMS chat or send in text messages – at premium rate of course. Have things changed that much?

The mobile industry today reminds me to a great extent of the early digital TV and broadband PC days back in 1996/7. We weren’t sure if putting video (or TV as we used to call it) onto the web was really going to work. We were not sure if communities and social networks would grow with any permanence on the web, which in those days were mostly shopping malls and advertising billboards (web 1.0) – and we weren’t sure that people would really use the web to be creative – many thought the web was about email (simple communication) and information. Ring any bells?

On mobile phones, of which the current incarnation has evolved out of the early web so the comparison is slightly flawed, we certainly have lots of walled gardens, chat communities and ubiquitous shopping malls. We have first generation services streaming live video (or TV as we used to call it) and video downloads – and in trials people are using DVB-H for up to 20 minutes a day. We also have games that are catching up to the quality of PS1 consoles of the mid-90s and communities in a sort of trial phase. Then there are the tablets, the iPods, PDAs all part of a convergence as everything becomes connected and we can store all the content you would ever need, at any one moment in time at least.

But mobile devices, particularly connected, location senstive ones have so much more potential, even now. What is holding them back from becoming the epicentre of consumers media universe? Price? Storage? The Experience? Interoperability? Quality of Service? The Business Model itself? ROI or Greed?

In the last five years things have changed considerably on the web – and now web 2.0, as it is called, is flourishing, and millions are actively participating and creating content. Blogs, vlogs, podcasts, shared spaces and mass multiplayer online role playing games are everywhere. People who play online games are not watching TV anymore, in fact they are not doing much else besides these social network based, online games. So why did this happen, what can we learn?

Part of why this happened is that firstly TV, a medium that used to be the media hub, has not evolved quickly enough for the active consumer – who need to share, communicate and participate ‘in’ the medium itself. Sure TV (the form – bite sized chunks of entertaining video) is gradually breaking free of its chains in the corner of the room, slowly becoming connected on the web, but we all know it will have to quickly morph and change its stripes to survive the next decade. Those early broadcast interactive services I had a part in creating or the early TV walled gardens such as Sky’s Open… (RIP) were in retrospect, stepping stones towards the great triple play of IPTV – also known as broadband content delivered to the large screen we used to call ‘a TV’. So why did this happen, what can the mobile industry learn?

People move to where media (their own and that which they pay for) is easily shared, published and moved between all their devices and friends and family. They buy content for themselves and not one device. They go to where their voice is heard and where they can be active participants. Any platform that locks the active ‘panther-like’ consumer in a cage, in the medium term, is doomed to failure. Early web portals like AOL and digital TV walled gardens know this. The mobile industry needs to take stock and grow up. Break down the walls, create interoperable marketplaces that will create traffic, activity and flourish. It also needs to treat the consumer as an individual and it has such potential to be the test bed for real personalisation – in fact that is it’s USP, its saviour and the true thing that can set it apart in the platform jungle. Getting the right ‘rich media’ content on top of each individuals portal in real time, on the move is key and ARPU will increase exponentially.

Speaking of personalisation, or rather customisation, I forgot to tell you I am a flasher. Not in the pants domain no. Dismayed by the amount of relevant rich content on various 3G portals I tried, I decided to flash my Moto v3x phone a few months ago. Yes I joined the dark side of the force, the modder community and now, move ‘my paid’ for content freely between PCs, iPod, PDA and phones. I suspect there are many more that would like to do so too. Beware of that crowd, unless you deliver quickly they will be looking elsewhere and WiFi, WiMax and Bluetooth connected (non mobile phone) mobile devices are getting itchy feet in the queue behind you.
Imagine now Ennio Morricones theme tune as we quickly look at the Good, The Bad and the Ugly of the mobile industry, the themes that we will be exploring in today’s conference.

The Good – three of them:
1 – mobile phones are still the most effective way to connect, mobile people. So we have two sessions dedicated to how mobile communities can increase traffic and ARPU. In publishing consumer content there has been some innovative phone user generated TV shows such as Syamekke in Japan, Cult TV in France and even a dedicated TV channel Tu Media in Korea showing nothing but viewer content. Using the phone as a tool to vlog and publish onto TV will both educate and inspire the audience and inspire.
2 – Another good seachange is at MyNumo.com for example. They are creating tools to allow consumers to sell content (ringtones, wallpaper and create webpages) to each other – micro viewer economics that really drove traffic for eBay, MySpace and a few virtual shared spaces on the web like Second Life.
3 – Also in the good camp is the phenomenal success of the mobile phone billing system. Some have called it ‘implied commerciality’ – people accept they have to pay for everything – but that also means people are far less eager to try new things which is also…

…The Bad – to me bad is still the simple lack of interoperability and the walled garden. Interoperability between mobile devices, between operators, and across the off-portal piece – but really, between consumers. Sure things are improving but without simple ways to share and move media consumers will find alternate routes as digital content wants to spread. No one operator can fulfil the need of any consumer so providing easier routes to get to off-portal content is critical and providing a higher quality experience on that journey is even more so. We have sessions looking at fulfilling the promise of 3G and on and off portal internet

The Ugly – We can do so much more to get the right content to right consumers. Personalisation, targeting and easier search are critical. Finding content is sometimes ugly at the moment, no in fact it is very ugly. Deep menus, busy interfaces and superficial content once you get there– we have panels today focusing on the consumer experience and how to create stickiness through usuability that will hopefully help us out of this maze.

OK enough from me time for some statistics now and a look at What Consumers Actually Want from the Australian mobile perspective, from Claudio Sagripanti of AIMIA and Venture One.

Welcome and Opening Remarks from the Chair
Mobile Content State of Play – the good, the bad and the ugly
Gary Hayes, Director, Laboratory for Advanced Media Production

Mobile content industry landscape
What consumers want – results from the Australian mobile phone lifestyle index
Claudia Sagripanti, Chairperson, AIMIA MCIDG and Venture One

International Keynote
Engaging customers through mobile entertainment
Ira Rubeinstein, Executive Vice President,
Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment

TV to Go – Effective programming for the mobile
Jim Shomos, Creator and Executive Producer,
Forget The Rules

Panel Discussion. Carrier Panel session – Fulfilling the promise of 3G
Gary Hayes, Moderator
Michael Padden, Head of Mobile Content, Telstra
Mark Mulder, General Manager of Content and portals, Optus
Adrian Crouch, IPX Country Manager, Ericsson
Richard Sherwood, General Manager of Mass Markets, Vodafone Australia
Scott Taylor, General Manager of Content and Services, 3 Australia

Communities – find the way into the truly viral market
Jennifer Wilson, Head of Mobile, HWW

Panel Discussion – Exploring the benefits of mobile communities
Jennifer Wilson, Moderator
Olivia Hilton, Chief Executive Officer, Jumbuck
James Cleary, Founder and Managing Director, Amethon
Paul Gruebar, Product Marketing Manager Premier and Youth, 3 Australia
Gregan McMahon, Regional Director Australia and NZ, Yahoo! Mobile

Creating a compelling – customer focused experience
Gary Hayes, Moderator
Annie Mackin, Head of Mobile Content, 3 Australia
Cyrus Allen, General Manager, Telstra Product Management, Telstra Corporation
Steve Watson, General Manager Group Portals and Entertainment, Legion Interactive
Oliver Weidlich, Managing Director, Ideal Interfaces
Trevor Goldberg, VP Global Partners, Bango
Arun Gupta, CEO, Mauj Telecom

Mobile Media: Mobile as a new opportunity
Peter Egberts, Business Development Director, South Pacific Region, Netsize

Speed Networking

Creating mobile content differentiation and brand experience through a consistent user interface
Dr. Yan Zhuang, Director Business Development, QUALCOMM Internet Services

Roundtable discussions
Roundtable one: Mobile Communities
Facilitated by Jennifer Wilson, Head of Mobile, HWW

Roundtable two: User Experience
Facilitated by Oliver Weidlich, Usability Specialist, Ideal Interfaces

Roundtable three: Mobile Media
Facilitated by Peter Egberts, Business Development Director, South Pacific Region, Netsize

Closing remarks from the Chair

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

Apr 162006

New God Mobile ©Gary HayesI had a minor eureka moment at Milia, suddenly the new mobile kid on the block was exposed, naked with all the acne and teenage angst that every immature platform goes through – clear for all to see. I gave the mobile, or rather the content that us humans have so far designed for it, the benefit of the doubt for many sessions at Milia. On our portable new toy these sessions ranged from specific business models for mobile, purportedly innovative content pitches, showcases of the best content and endless references in keynote sessions to this revolutionary platform. On the exhibition floor we had the likes of Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and Orange showing off the latest toys for boys. Then of course we had the commercial food fight sessions that goes on with new platforms – as the very clever Mark Halper said in his introduction to Mobi Wars session…

“a 42 billion dollar market by 2010…putting aside the sad anthropological fact that this turns our species into one born with gadgets in our hands, the question becomes who will make money? Mobile entertainment as the phrase plainly tells us joins together two powerful industries accustomed to calling their own shots. Entertainment and mobile. Think Murdock, think Vodaphone. Now get them chasing 42 billion dollars together and they start to look at each other kinda funny. To summarise it both want 70%. This may be new media but it’s not new math. “

Regardless of the fact that some services started on mobile and then went to TV/PC, my sense of disbelief finally broke at the Content 360° Pitching Session: Total Mobile & User Generated Mobile Content. I suddenly came to realize that regardless of the endless “made just for mobile” or “unique world first experience” mantra that permeated most of the presenters talks, 95% of the content experience was in fact not very good, poor. Poor, to the extent that all the formats were borrowed directly from daddy TV or their older sister ‘broadband. PC’ unchanged. In these early days, run by marketers after early big buck and brand positioning and NOT true creatives the quality of services we must expect will indeed be copycat and souless. So some of my ‘exposed’ services include:

  1. The TV Reformatters. VJ Search from Chum TV (who sell programmes to 130 countries worldwide) for example. Reality shows ‘as TV’ but on your phone. ’10 finalists fight it out…’ you get the idea. To be fair there were tens of you vote for this then that type services – proud that they are really using the communication capability of the phone but most proud that things are actually working! That is obviously a major factor – before we get creative, lets make sure we get real – and it is so easy to copy existing formats.
  2. The Straight Reversioners. Vodaphone talking about their ‘variety packs’ of mobile TV channels “its about content not channels”. TV straight onto the phone. Full length movies, Eurosport simulcasts, 24 mobisodes etc: Vodaphone Germany have over 30 TV channels and on and on. Several of the network presenters reminded me forcibly of BskyB in the early days ‘its new, lots of choice, delivered in a new way…’ and more marketing hype but it is still TV as you already know it Jim.
  3. The Same Olds. There is nothing new under the sun as I saw the upteenth CDROM-type service reversioned for the mobile phone, yet being praised for it’s innovative idea. There was the alphabet learning game, or the recipe book online or how about navigating through short video clips.
  4. The Wannabees. There were several ‘virtual’ so and so type services and quite a few ‘mobile episode’ services (one day someone should join those two words up and charge people for using it 😉 . For example “PS I Love You” from MediaCorp– very culturally targeted, aimed at an innocent, teenage Asian audience. The thing that struck me with this and many others with this and a couple of similar services was the middling production value but poor script, direction and little edutainment value (cutting corners abounds).
  5. The PC on your Mobile’rs. Several projects talked about UGC and mobile. How mobiles are story tools extraordinary? They are but in the wrong hands things can go horribly wrong. Several pitches and commercial services struck me as straight lifts from PC. Time Capsule, effectively video nation on your mobile, or an endless range of send in your ‘audition’ clip for a range of be a celeb services – your 15 seconds of fame in many cases.

There was hardly any content that drew gasps of approval from the audience. Several examples produced laughter though – for the wrong reasons.

Now I am sounding terribly old school here are some of my favourites. They are still only 60% there but at least they feel they are in the right direction.

  1. Paul Bennun, Somethin’ Elses – a user generated TV programme. Basically passionate viewer comments about a range of topics compiled for peer review but presented in a more unique way, without the feeling that this was PC reformat. There was an observational quiz programme, although nothing new, used the audio strengths of the mobile to a great extent and the video just supported that and posed questions that often required a second playing – keep the money rolling in guys!
  2. Pieto Bezza from Neo networks in Italy showed a half-game, half drama service called Video Partner. It premiered in March 2003 on 3 in Italy now on Orange in Israel. You effectively navigate through a range of short clips (after an mms, push, call to action) to either woo a man or woman (non-porn, aimed at Italian adolescents) – learn how to be nice to the opposite sex, kind of thing, in the privacy of your own hand. Pieto called it a video adventure (copyright the expression now Pieto!) Who could you play with (as a man) “we have Sarah, a dancer, or she wants to be. Then we have Julia, the next door, innocent, pretend to be innocent, student. Then we have Rebakka, a sensual foreigner…” Quite a complex hierarchy, you choose an option from a multi-choice at the end of each video clip – “what should you say to her after a failed dance audition for example’…although the production value was low there was something game-like about it that almost worked.
  3. I would have liked to have seen more personalized, targeted services. Ones that know you, give you a unique experience (in the context of this blog) – but none spring to mind, in fact there just weren’t any – and that was sad. Still years away from those heavily personalized mobile experiences, perhaps it is time to move some of my ideas into the market 😉
  4. Judy Gladstone from Bravo!Fact in Canada showed some very personal and poingnant cell phone video shorts that they commissioned as part of ChumTV shorts. Here the audio and textual overlay played a significant role – a multi-dimensionalism was created vs a flat reversion relying heavily on video only. She talked in two sessions about cliff-hangers and the cross-media implications of this – but there is a fine line, it felt good from the personal story aspect but I kept flicking into this is self indulgent new media arts/poor UGC mode too.

DMB at Milia ©Gary HayesThere were very few services that used the locative capability of the phone combined with DMB (left image) but ‘our friends’ from Tasmania had some great ideas, which is why they won the pitches I believe – what is it about Tasmania – perhaps the distance from the market gives them big picture advantage, over to you Mr. Gurney! Mip/Milia was mass market stuff after all and it is very easy for academics and experimental labs to point the finger (dear me that is what I have just done!). Across 3G point-to-point, broadcast and synch mobile services there is such a long, long road ahead. Then there is media and hardware convergence. I say media convergence, which was used in the wrong context several times, but from a perspective of mobile media convergence…as a successful new format comes along it will be duplicated from many carriers and providers around the world, bandwagon convergence.
I know from personal launch experience that early ‘mass audience’ launches does require lowest common denominator thinking, reduce the risk by reducing the number of variables that can go wrong. Add to that pure greed, yes lets be clear on that one, and you have a recipe for mediocrity. (As a tangent I thought it hilarious that there was serious discussion about Fox asking for a fee on their earlier trademark of the term “Mobisode” – several presenters were a little concerned about using the term in public as the royalty amount was not yet made public – greed indeed, shame on you Fox.)

Back to the mantra, it doesn’t matter that it was “made just for mobile”, well in fact it does because to be honest the production value and conceptual depth made most of it look like a series of cheap pilots that TV companies would turn down in a second – so it could therefore ONLY be made for mobile. It also reminded me that, back to my opening statement as an adolescent platform, in the commercial world at least mobile has no true identity and it heavily borrows from its older media family – one day it will leave the nest and stand-alone. I expect I will be part of that evo, sorry revolution.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006