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Digital Hollywood: Mobile Commerce & Content

Santa Monica, CA—Last night I attended an opening event at Digital Hollywood, namely the party celebrating nominees for the upcoming Mobile Excellence Awards. At the Loew’s Hotel on the beach, guests were treated to a spectacular sunset, a view of the neon-lit Ferris Wheel on the Santa Monica pier and, of course, drinks and hors d’oeuvres. Enthusiasm is high for the actual Mobile Excellence Awards, coming up on December 8th.

Today, I attended a panel on Mobile Commerce & Content, moderated by Steve Bradbury, GoTV vp of content strategy and business affairs and featuring panelists Cheng Wu, Azuki co-founder/chair; Brian K. Johnson, senior vp, Americas and Asia Pacific for mBlox; Larry Berkin, vp of ecosystem and corporate business development for ACCESS Systems Americas; Virgin Mobile USA director of brand development & partnerships Ron Faris and AirPlay Network chair/CEO Morgan Guenther.

GoTVs Steve Bradbury

GoTVs Steve Bradbury

At Loew's Hotel

At Loew's Hotel

Sorry to say I missed the first part of the panel but came in at a perfect moment: when the discussion turned to advertising. Moderator Bradbury asked panelists what advertising model will work in the next 6 to 18 months. “Now it’s the original model of TV: we’ll give you content to get you from one set of ads to the next,” he said.

Guenther agreed with the “TV model” assessment and pointed out that his company’s model was focused on the live event. “When there’s a pause in the action, you look at the mobile phone and match it up with what’s happening in movie theatre or TV screen,” he said. “It’s all abut pacing and what the customer is anticipating.”

Virgin Mobile USA’s Faris admitted that his company doesn’t have the scale, but instead has a niche focused on youth. “Reach and frequency are tenets of advertising, but to bring relevance we’ve had to bring depth of experience,” he said. “We’ve looked at different ways of advertising. When we launched Sugar Mama, a model where you watch content in exchange for free minutes, we didn’t thave the scale to be able to compete. We were up against Google, AOL and so on. We tried to bring in WAP banners and text blasts to bring up the numbers. They were great for reach, but for depth of engagement, which is what we’re using, we were reincarnating things that annoyed us on the web. The WAP banner is nothing more than a banner ad. Text blasts are nothing more than spam. Geo-targeting is great but why do I care? If I get a text blast for Nyquil and don’t have a cold, why should I care? From our perspective, you have to understand what’s relevant and create a deep engagement. I don’t want to keep going in this direction – we have to move into a sponsorship model.”

Berkin pointed out that everyone is in the early stages of mobile advertising. “I come from the download pay- for-application model. It’s a scale business.” He also revealed that ACCESS Systems Americas has created a widget platform that’s ad supported that will roll out on smart phones across the world.

Johnson noted that the text message ad-supported model has taken off. “We’re watching that carefully,” he said. “We see a big increase in free-mium, where you get something for free but maybe you’ll pay something more if you like it. Micro-payments are our biggest growing segment, for example to pay 99 cents to send someone virtual flowers. A mixture of micro payment and ads will pay for content.”

Azuki’s Cheng said that “the mobile ad ecosystem is completely fragmented and totally isolated from advertising.” “Mobile is different from desktop,” he said. “You can’t put 30-second ad for 30-seconds of content. Advertisers have an inventory of 30-second spots, so their resources aren’t fitting the mobile ecosystem.”

One panelist noted that “before we see a truly ad-funded content model, I’d like to see a flourishing one online. “We’re closer to having that scale in the online context, for music in particular,” he said. “There have been attempts for fully ad-funded models but the numbers don’t work. Content costs are steep, and we’re a ways off until we see truly ad-funded mobile content.”

The last word came from Bradbury who spoke about metrics. “Metrics in the online world stink. The numbers are inconcistent. Metrics have to be much more standardized and effective. The same thing in the mobile space, so you can go to a media buyer used to seeing things in a certain way and give them numbers they understand in order to justify putting money into a mobile buy. Then you’ve got a viable campaign. But, for now, metrics are still a big issue.”

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Filed under Advertising/Marketing, Content, Monetizing Mobile

Apple Love Fest at Digital Hollywood Panel

Monday, May 5, 2008–Today was the first day of Digital Hollywood, appropriately enough in the heart of Hollywood at the new Highland Center complex. For the next couple of days, I plan to post from the conference (or slightly thereafter)

First up, a panel on the Mobile Platform 2.0 – Establishing the Personalized Video, Music and Communications Experience, moderated by Sharon Wienbar, managing director at Scale Venture Partners, was an Apple love fest.The panel featured speakers from Nokia Interactive (Jeremy Wright, global director of mobile brand strategy) and Motorola (John Hallman, manager of market development for video and mobile television) as well as reps from Universal Music Group (Julie Lee, vp, biz dev) and AOL (Jai Jaisimha, vp of mobile technology and product development). Also present was Rick Doherty, co-founder/director of The Envisioneering Group.

Panelists both praised the iPhone for the fact that “it just works” – and the fact that if it doesn’t, Apple’s customer service will replace it, no questions asked. The 3G phones will kick up the game a big notch, but Wienbar noted that Apple’s 25-year old problem is delivering on time after an announcement.

Mobile phones are also huge in developing nations in Asia and Africa, although the features of an iPhone are not useful for these users. Over time, Hallman said, Nokia and Motorola will look at iPhone features, just as Apple will look at what works in Africa and Asia.

Panelists all concurred that the disruption of iPhone is positive for the industry, even as new features such as the touch-screen moves onto center stage.“That’s what we need – competition and the freedom to compete,” said Wright,pointing to progressive de-regulation. “Everyone has opportunity in the wake of the iPhone,” said Doherty. “We’ll see a flood of applications.” Wienbar agreed that the developer environment is “very fertile.” Currently, because Java- or Brew-enabled handsets are not heterogeneous, Apple has the biggest footprint with 5 million users – and thus the most fertile ground for developers.

And Google’s Android? Will this take advantage of the door opened by Apple? Jaisimha stressed the importance of platform heterogeneity. “Google Android is a placeholder, not a finished toolkit,” said Doherty. More important, said panelists, is that Google and Apple have awakened developers that handsets are “it” [as in, the “it” platform for development], whether Apple or not.

The panelists also talked about LBS (location-based services), which they recognized is in its earliest days in the U.S. market. Although the conversation first turned to privacy concerns (Wright reported that in the U.K., the carriers must seek permissions from users), the focus quickly changed to a discussion of LBS’ biggest competition in the U.S. market: the automotive navigational system. If you’ve got a GPS in you car – and in the U.S. (especially in L.A.), you’re always in your car, why do you need it with your cell phone?

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