The Most Complex Simple Screen

John Zehr of ESPN Mobile

For some consumers, mobile has become the most important screen in their lives. But for the technology to become a vibrant platform, marketers and advertisers must think of it differently than the PC Web. So says John Zehr, SVP and GM, ESPN Mobile, during the keynote at OMMA Mobile in Los Angeles.

Mobile is a personal experience. It's the only screen with you every waking hour. Consumers have started to pay more for what they do on mobile rather than cable, from checking sports scores to checking airline flight information, Zehr says. "Mobile will become bigger than anyone thinks," he says.

Although it started as a communications device, for some it has moved to a primary Internet connection to find information on the go. Zehr says about 156 million people text-message, 60 million rely on the mobile Web, and 10 million are video subscribers.

Knowing that people want to look for sports scores on the go, ESPN built an iPhone application to check scores. He says it's not a glamorous application. It simply provides fans with a way to check scores, but it's easy to use and there aren't a lot of layers to get to the information.

The best advice that Zehr could give is to design for mobile and consider the person's behavior using the phone. The phone is tied to a number, which enables ESPN to know what the user wants. So ESPN tailors the content. The mobile site knows the last time the person visited the site, along with what they looked at, which provides a unique opportunity to also target advertising.

The data that serves up on the phone has been organized to fit in the small screen. ESPN doesn't fill the screen with lots of information. The application simply serves up the information the person wants to see.

ESPN has made an investment in research, working with Ad Labs to study eye-tracking. Some of the research has shown that mobile banners are more effective on the phone, compared to those on the PC. It doesn't matter what the size of the banner is. ESPN also is working with Nielsen to monitor what people do in a 24-hour period on their phone.

ESPN serves up about 120 million SMS messages monthly, including breaking news and scores. Although the text messages are automated, it gives people the idea that they are having a one-on-one conversation with the team.

Just as ESPN can serve up scores on the fly, "marketing needs to move to a real-time medium," he says. "You have to respond to the world."

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