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