What Holds Back U.S. Adoption of Mobile Multimedia

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The Wall Street Journal reported at the end of the second quarter on staggering losses in the telecom industry as several mobile start-ups floundered. Many of these venture-backed companies were courting cell phone users with nascent multimedia offerings such as sports content, handset television or music downloads.

Though the number of U.S. cell phone users has doubled in the past six years, adoption of mobile multimedia has been slower than expected in North America. The premium content that carriers thought would drive mobile users to consume multimedia on their handsets and participate in funky interactive mobile marketing campaigns has not proven out.

The Journal said several of these start-ups, including Mobile ESPN and Amp'd Mobile, are going back to the drawing board to revise their programming and marketing strategies. Three things that mobile content providers should consider integrating into their approach to improve adoption of mobile multimedia are providing easier access to content, enabling spontaneity and increasing promotion in offline media.

Easing access to content. The mobile industry has spent countless person-hours in getting the coolest applications, content, games and functionality onto the wireless handset.

But the challenge to adoption lies not with the content, but in the complex path to accessing content. For consumers who are used to simply dialing a number or sending a text message to someone in their address book, accessing cool new content is difficult. They either must go to a URL (a tough task on a keypad of 12 buttons) or enter an SMS message and send it to a short code number that an individual may or may not remember correctly.

In a recent Mediamark study, the research group found that three years after the introduction of common SMS short code, only 47 percent of adult consumers knew how to use it and 69 percent had little interest in participating in short code SMS campaigns.

Mobile content providers must give users an intuitive interface and simple procedures for initiating a content request that work over all handsets.

Enabling spontaneity. For many people, the cell phone is the most spontaneous electronic device in their lives. It lets them instantly reach out to friends, family and business associates whenever and wherever they want. One key to making mobile multimedia more attractive is to increase the consumer's perception of it as a spontaneous activity.

Content providers can shape marketing messages to reinforce the idea and the perception of spontaneity. However, eliminating the step of opening a WAP browser or a text application to access multimedia will make it faster and simpler for consumers to reach premium content on the spot. It also can bridge the age gap. Mediamark's study indicated that consumers older than 35 found it much easier to access mobile content when they did not have to open a WAP browser or text application.

Offline tie-ins. The media landscape is in transition, yet the public continues to consume news and entertainment in traditional formats like television, print and radio. A recent white paper by Frost & Sullivan, "Mobile Direct Response Marketing: Connecting Brands With End-Users," suggests that tying in a call to action with advertising and editorial coverage in traditional media could increase user adoption of mobile multimedia.

Though SMS calls to action are proving difficult for consumers to remember from offline media, new methods on the horizon are more user friendly. Zoove's StarStar dialing and BET's pound dialing are examples of mobile direct response mechanisms that are simple for consumers to remember and have proven to work in offline tie-in programs.

The mobile industry is just at the start of a communications revolution. Multimedia promises to change how we use our cell phones and how we interact with brands, entertainers and each other. Last quarter's hiccup in the mobile sector is temporary, sending mobile content providers back into marketing strategy sessions. They eventually will capture the attention of the North American market the way they have in Asia and Europe.

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