Mobile content faces respite

Industry players observe that one-size-fits-all content and varying handset interfaces are hindering take-up rate of mobile content.

SINGAPORE--As more cellphone users turn to their mobile screens as a source of content, industry players agree that mobile services providers are ill-prepared to capitalize on the trend.

"There is a generation behind us that will increasingly look at their mobile screens for content," said Gregg Creevey, senior vice-president for sales and marketing at business news broadcaster, CNBC Asia-Pacific.

"Investments have been made in (operator network) technology, but I don't see a similar level of investment in content," he said, during a panel discussion today at the 3GSM World Congress Asia held here.

Creevey emphasized that content investment is not about putting a TV channel on a mobile screen. Rather, operators have to create a different experience from what is already available in mainstream media, he said.

For India-based mobile content provider Hungama Mobile, this means featuring Bollywood trailers or even full-length movies before their box-office runs.

"Bollywood is made for mobile," said Neeraj Roy, CEO of Hungama Mobile, which provides ring tones, wallpapers, games and movie clips for cellphone users. The company clocks 500,000 downloads a day, he said.

Bollywood movies are especially suited for the mobile platform because of their short song-and-dance medleys, he explained. "It's normal to see six to seven songs in a Bollywood movie. Even (having) 15 songs is not impossible," Roy said, noting that Hungama had partnered with an Indian operator to premier a Bollywood movie on a cellphone screen last December.

Although response from consumers was lukewarm, he said this initiative assured Indian filmmakers that entertainment in the mobile space was viable. "Studios started to take this medium more seriously," he said.

In fact, mobile data revenues will reach US$124 billion by 2010, according to analyst firm Informa Telecoms and Media.

Amongst those eyeing for a slice of the pie, operators such as Singapore-based StarHub, which provides cable TV, broadband Internet and mobile services, may just have a slight edge over competitors in nailing down media consumers.

StarHub CEO Terry Clontz said people who view content on cellphones are more of an audience, rather than communicators.

"Mobile operators don't really have the experience of viewing their customers as an audience," he said. "It's more (about) segmenting them based on ARPU (average revenue per user), such as SMS (short message service) centric customers and roaming customers."

A whole new layer of segmentation, based on how customers consume content, needs to be undertaken for operators to be successful, Clontz explained. "It's something you can't really fix just by hiring experienced people. It requires a substantial change in your organization," he noted.

Content does not always have to be delivered on 3G networks, he added, because "customers don't care about the transport technology."

In fact, 2.5G networks are good enough for providing content that does not involve real-time streaming, he said. "A lot of 2.5G handsets out there are adequate for consuming our content, given that 3G handsets are not what they need to be now," he noted.

3G mobile phones are typically seen as the stumbling block to the adoption of 3G content services. One conference participant pointed out that "we are putting second-generation interfaces on 3G phones"

Mohan Gyani, CEO of Roamware, added that the lack of uniformity among cellphone interfaces means users often have to re-learn an interface whenever they buy a new cellphone.

Gyani said: "Why can't we just speak into a phone to view sports headlines as opposed to using a keypad? I think that will tremendously facilitate the use of data services."