There’s been a big increase in the use of MMS
to send video and audio to mobile phones, but the
technologyhasn’t reached its potential for marketers.
The Tribeca Film Festival in New York City this year featured a “mini movie studio” where several thousand people were able to make 15-second made-for-mobile movies and send them to their handsets.
The movies used multimedia messaging services (MMS) to deliver video and audio to the phones and proved to be quite popular, according to people involved in the project. The studio was set up by Verizon Wireless and its parent, Verizon, as a marketing promotion. The companies had a similar campaign in 2007 and this year’s event saw a 420% increase in the number of MMS clips sent. The campaign was put together by the mobile marketing companies Momentum and Ansible.
By all accounts, the mini movies were a successful marketing tool using MMS. The mobile marketing industry would like to use the technology to deliver rich media to mobile phones. But, despite its creative attractions, MMS isn’t used that much yet for mobile marketing and advertising. The reason? Brands and advertising agencies can’t be sure they’ll reach a wide audience with MMS because of the lack of interoperability among all U.S. carriers.
In fact, Courtney Jane Acuff, vice president and director of the creative company Denuo, a specialty division within the large Publicis Groupe, said she recommends that brands don’t use MMS for mobile marketing or advertising. Acuff is mobile chairperson for the Philip Morris Digital Exchange and consults on mobile issues for AstraZeneca, Walt Disney World and Hewlett-Packard.
“From an agency perspective I can’t recommend [MMS] as a tactic for execution within the overall mobile strategy until it is truly viable across carriers. We’re just not there yet,” Acuff said. She said the only time she recommends using MMS is if a client already has a relationship with a carrier and only wants to use the messaging technology on that network.
There’s little question that SMS has gained traction in the mobile marketing and advertising industry, but not MMS. The research company comScore said an average of 46 million U.S. mobile phone subscribers received at least one SMS ad per month during the three months ending Sept. 30, up from the 41.2 million monthly average for the same period a year earlier. About 4.4 million subscribers received more than 10 SMS ads in a month.
ComScore doesn’t have similar numbers for ads sent via MMS. Another research firm, Nielsen Mobile, said 29% of mobile subscribers in the U.S. over the age of 13 sent or received some kind of MMS messages on a regular basis. The typical U.S. subscriber sent or received 4.2 MMS messages per month during the second quarter of this year, compared to 0.6 MMS messages per month in the first quarter of 2006, when Nielsen started tracking usage.
VeriSign’s Messaging and Mobile Media Division said the 600-plus networks it serves globally recorded 58.3 billion combined SMS and MMS messages in the third quarter and forecast 200 billion total messages in 2008 worth $7 billion to carriers.
VeriSign’s numbers also showed there were 1.36 billion combined SMS/MMS messages in the third quarter using “application-to-person” protocols. A2P is typically the way mobile marketing and advertising is sent using MMS. VeriSign also estimated there were about 200 million MMS messages globally in the third quarter that were A2P for a total during the first nine months of 2008 of 540 million.
|Global Mobile Messaging Users|
There were a total of 379 million MMS messages sent globally over VeriSign’s equipment in the third quarter, a 122% increase from the same period a year earlier. That number includes both person-to-person [P2P] and A2P MMS messages. P2P MMS messages most often are those sent between individuals who might be sharing video or audio for personal reasons.
U.S. carriers have enabled MMS interoperability among themselves for P2P messages, but not for A2P messages used for marketing and advertising. Dan Shey, an analyst with ABI Research, said the initial stumbling block for P2P MMS messages was that carriers wanted to establish guidelines for how the messages would impact their networks. That issue was resolved for P2P MMS but not for A2P, he said.
Another issue for A2P MMS used in marketing and advertising is the use of common short codes (CSC). The five-or-six digit short codes, which are administered by CTIA, started five years ago as a way for mobile users to request information or content from a provider. SMS short codes are interoperable across carriers so 95% of U.S. mobile subscribers can use them, giving brands access to a potential market of more than 250 million consumers. Short codes also are used for voting, to order pizza, participate in politics, report crimes and a multitude of other applications.
Brands lease these CSCs, which are registered through NeuStar. There are more than 3,100 short codes in use now and the number has been growing more than 25% annually. But, while CSCs can be used across networks for SMS, that isn’t the case for MMS short codes.
Steve Granek, director of advanced services for NeuStar, said part of the problem is that MMS is based on Internet protocols, while SMS is not. Text messages based on voice protocols are easily recognized by network infrastructure and routed appropriately. But short codes intended for an MMS gateway may not be delivered correctly, he said.
NeuStar is working with infrastructure manufacturers and the GSM Association to try to standardize the MMS short code delivery mechanism. Until then, Granek said, carriers and their vendors are using “Band-Aids on an ad hoc basis.”
Another problem with getting MMS to work across all networks for mobile advertising and marketing is that content aggregators and vendors often work separately and independently.
Alykhan Govani, North American CEO of MX Telecom, said if a brand wants to conduct a cross-carrier marketing campaign using MMS, it has to work with four or five different aggregators.
Govani also said U.S. carriers haven’t been shown a business case to make A2P MMS profitable for them. At least one carrier only allows premium-rate MMS on its network, while others allow standard and premium rates. But Govani said it is “just a matter of time” before the technical and business issues are worked out, suggesting there could be interoperability at least among the major carriers by mid-2009.
WAITING FOR CARRIERS
Bill Dudley, senior product director for the Sybase 365 messaging platform, said he thinks the problem may be resolved as carriers upgrade their MMS infrastructure, which will include standards-based technology allowing interoperability.
“The volumes [of SMS and MMS messages] are there,” he said. “The subscriber awareness is there and I think you will see subscribers uploading rich media more to social networking sites. It’s a great way to update blogs, follow your sports teams, but you have to wait for the carriers to come on board. I think everybody wants it to happen.”
Dudley wasn’t as optimistic about when interoperability might happen, though, forecasting it would be the end of 2009.
Once that is done, Sybase 365 has a pipeline of content providers and brands that want to use A2P MMS to deliver rich content to mobile subscribers, he said. MMS is being used in Europe to deliver electronic airline boarding passes and barcodes to phones.
Brands see a sizeable revenue opportunity through mobile advertising, marketing and selling rich content to mobile phones, according to Steve Leonard, general manager of Motricity’s off-deck division. Pointing to what smartphones like Apple’s iPhone can do, he also said consumers are becoming more interested in richer mobile content than ringtones and simple graphics.
Leonard said content providers who want to deliver rich media now are using other methods, like e-mail sent to phones or steering consumers to WAP sites using “WAP push” SMS messages. But as consumers become accustomed to the benefits of MMS, like posting video or photos to social communities on the Internet, he said they’ll start demanding wider capabilities.
“WAP push is the default now,” he said. “It is a more robust, rich piece of content than SMS. That’s where people are falling back on.”
The downside to WAP push, Leonard said, is that it is a one-way communication while MMS can be two-way. Social networks want to use two-way communication so friends can interact. E-mail to mobile phones is two-way but more cumbersome to do on a phone and not all phones support it, he said.
At the end, MMS comes down to the business model for carriers, he agreed.
“I’d love to hear what the business model is around MMS,” Leonard said. “The SMS business model is well known; the fee is relatively low and inexpensive. MMS is more expensive and uses more data on the network.”
Acuff said brands and agencies will start using MMS when interoperability is achieved. MMS would be used as part of a total marketing or advertising campaign. Acuff admits to being “hopeful” that interoperability will be achieved, but “we’ve been hopeful for several years.”