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Friday, October 21, 2005

The multimedia delusions of "Old Mobile"

I'm listening to a presentation by a major mobile network infrastructure vendor. It's about the opportunity for mobile content distribution - over-the-air downloads of music, streaming video, and various new and innovative ways of delivering "traditional" content like ringtones.

Much of the pitch seems to be trying to convince a roomful of analysts that various historical oddities and asymmetries of the mobile business (like $4 for a ringtone, vs $1 for an Internet music download) are not only sustainable, but justifiable and extensible. Phrases like "creating a conversation around the content" and (& no I'm not joking here) “surfing your own taste curve” are being used to explain why things like ringback tones and paid video clips will continue to generate substantial revenues for mobile carriers.

I'm unconvinced this logic (or marketingspeak) applies universally, if at all. It strikes me as another attempt by the increasingly-cloistered "Old Mobile" industry to pretend that it can defend its worldview against growth of the Internet, home broadband, IP, iTunes, Bittorrent and various other emerging multimedia technologies.

Two factors lead me to think that this model is over-optimistic:

- firstly, mobile devices have multiple ways of getting content on and off the device - cellular, WLAN, memory cards, Bluetooth, USB etc. They're also getting smarter - full operating systems like Symbian and Windows Mobile, better Java and so on. Basically, the user will find it easier to play arbitrage games, getting cheaper/better/more convenient content via the PC or other sources, without DRM limiting their content portfolio to a single device or mobile carrier (fancy losing your music or video library when you switch operators?)

- secondly, an ever-increasing population is getting used to broadband home Internet access. This is rapidly setting an expectation that there's a lot of "good free stuff" available, with even more "premium but not that expensive stuff". That expectation didn't really exist in massmarket perception 2 years ago, and is now growing incredibly rapidly - more rapidly than the use of mobile content on phones. I believe that these attitudes will rapidly extend to the mobile world, and will undermine the supposed value of the "conversation" around mobile content.

Last word goes to another wonderful line from the presentation:

“Most profitable business models are still being tested”.

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