LAS VEGAS—Billboard Mobile Entertainment kicked off its pre-CTIA event yesterday, and the conclusions were as varied as the themes. As usual, everyone seemed to agree that the mobile channel is abound with opportunity, but few agreed on when and how to best capitalize on the medium.
Bob Gessel, vice president and head of technology and network strategy for Ericsson, one of the show’s sponsors, set the tone by praising the iPhone, saying the device has shown the industry the way forward.
Gessel’s remarks were followed by a Q&A with Greg Clayman, executive vice president of digital distribution for MTV, who also ended up concentrating on the iPhone. Clayman runs cross-channel digital businesses for MTV, and he said mobile is probably the biggest channel he oversees.
He also said that the three largest areas of growth for MTV’s mobile division are mobile video, mobile Web, and iPhone apps. “Prior to the Apple iPhone, the apps business was very difficult for us,” he said.
Clayman compared the ease and relatively low cost of developing for the iPhone versus the expense of developing an app for the rest of the fragmented market. “There’s only 17 million iPhone handsets worldwide,” Clayman noted. “But it’s still one platform and you can release an app once and it’s marketed to all of those users instantly.”
MTV has released a number of apps for the iPhone. Clayman said they’ve done well, specifically noting a Sponge Bob application from its Nickelodean division.
Clayman went on to say that MTV is interested in developing applications for the rest of the market but that it’s currently a very complicated and costly endeavor. However, he does see hope in the growing share of the market held by smartphones.
“What we find interesting is that as more people are going from feature phones to smartphones … so do we get to a place where there are four or five smartphones platforms and then be able to hit 50 percent of the market?”
While fragmentation was an undercurrent of the Billboard event, there was still time to highlight some of the more recent success stories from the world of mobile advertising.
Dalton Caldwell, founder and CEO of imeem, and Michael Sprague, Kia’s vice president of marketing for North America, talked about their partnership in creating a successful digital campaign for Kia’s new vehicle, the Soul.
Kia chose to roll out its campaign through the branded imeem application, which offers a free ad-based music service on the Android platform. Imeem is currently user-installed on one in every three Android phones.
The combination of music and mobile was a good fit for the Kia Soul demographic –
mid-twenty-year-olds just out of college.
Sprague and Caldwell stressed the unique aspects of mobile, including the ability to target a very specific demographic with an interactive experience. “It’s important to give the customer an experience that fits them,” Sprague said.
While cases like Kia and imeem are definitely out there, they’re still the exception. The reach of mobile remains relatively small compared to other avenues. It’s also an unknown for advertisers and is usually funded with funds from experimental budgets.
That may be changing, according to a panel on premium content.
Eric Litman, CEO of MediaLets, said there’s a trade-off happening. “Experimental budgets are growing, but also more of mainstream budgets are going to mobile,” he said.
Litman also said that this could be another year of learning curve for the mobile space. “The mobile advertising market is big on predictions. The dollars that we’ll see in ad spend are not going to be as great as people thought, but it’s not going to be as bad either.”
The event also featured Rob Thomas, lead singer for Matchbox 20. Thomas was interviewed by Bill Werde, editorial director for Billboard. Thomas’ appearance was meant to highlight the changing landscape of the music industry as digital and mobile become the main channels for delivery and promotion.
Werde began by inquiring about Thomas’ creative process. “I start with the ringtone, and I build out from there,” quipped Thomas.
Thomas went on to express his enthusiasm for services like Twitter and a new application called Fanbase as a way to connect with fans on a more personal level. “I’m a twittering fool,” Thomas said. “You’re essentially eliminating the middle-man between you and your fans.”
But he also lamented the current state of music distribution as delivery channels change.
In probably the only discouraging words uttered about Apple at the event, Thomas noted that iTunes pretty much did away with the idea of crafting an album. “The fact that they’ve kind of dictated how the music is delivered is kind of a bummer,” Thomas said, but he admitted to downloading two or three new albums every week on iTunes.
After Thomas left the stage, the event returned to business with a panel on what advertisers want from mobile entertainment.
Brian Bros, senior vice president and convergence director for Mindshare, and Jamie Wells, U.S. mobile director for OMD’s Ignition Factory, were quick to point out what’s working in the mobile space, but they also added some balance to an otherwise mobile-centric room.
“I think that some of the hyperbole that mobile is the glue that connects all these different media types is a little bit overblown. What I do think is that people gravitate towards the largest screen. Then when they’re away from home, they defer to the phone,” Bros said.
While Wells didn’t entirely agree with Bros, he was also cautious about some of the hype surrounding the medium. “Mobile still has a ways to go before it can compete with more efficient channels like the Web,” Wells said.
“Any new channel, you’re going to have some hesitancy,” Bros said. “It’s just a relatively small base. It may be five times more effective, but it’s only about 15 percent of the population. So how much are you going to spend on that small of a vertical?”
While there may not have been a lot of conclusions reached, Billboard’s event proved that even in a recession, there’s still a vibrant discourse surrounding the world of mobile content and advertising.