Went to the MDA Member Forum this week. The subject was the state of the UK Mobile Content Market.
In short the ring tone and wallpaper market is dead, too many subscribers have fancy phones that allow them to share content, take great photos and play MP3s whenever someone calls.
Mobile Youth focus on researching the the mobile habits and views of children and their recent research came up with some interesting findings for the network operators. When asked what network they were on, many said 'Nokia' or equivalent. This could be terrible news for the mobile networks. If there is no association with them providing the services then where is the loyalty?
The mobile networks are desparately trying not to become a bit-pipe. If they let that happen they will essentially become mobile ISPs and there is no value in that for them. Unfortunately off-portal is where the growth in consumer spend is going to come, according to Informa.
In response to this demand for off-portal access they are placing a Google search box at the head of their portals, allowing people to leave their controlled, revenue generating environments and out into the frontier land of the Internet. The problem is how do the generate any money?
The Payforit scheme (sorry couldn't find a link) or Trusted Mobile Payment Framework is an attempt by the operators to provide a payment mechanism for this off-portal world. This was officially launched this week. Given the operator's propensity for significant margins on their payment solutions, see premium SMS outpayments, I think they're going to face stiff competition from services like PayPal Mobile.
An alternative is to keep the subscribers on-portal by providing compelling and exclusive content. This can be subsidised through advertising or sponsorship, repeating a business model that has operated for decades in TV, radio and printed media.
Mobile TV is the highest profile example of this new generation of services, although notably the subcriber is currently paying for the privilege in Vodafone's case. Check out my previous post Is Mobile TV the new WAP? for my views on the current offerings.
So the industry that has got fat on ring tones and wallpapers is trying to establish itself as a necessary part of the mobile internet. The problem is they could end up just providing the plumbing.