EA Mobile Makes Big Play With Telefonica, But When Will US Carriers Get Back Into The Content Game?

Fifa12-BOnly five years after the iPhone’s launch and four years after the app model disrupted everything, you barely ever hear the words “mobile content” and “carriers” mentioned in the same sentence anymore. When I started covering this business back in the early 2000s, “mobile content” was almost always mentioned in close proximity to “carriers.” The former just didn’t get very far without the latter. Verizon was cutting deals with music companies.

So many fledgling developers wanted an audience with the diminutive content staffs at the networks that an entire industry of mobile content aggregators and go-betweens evolved. I once asked the head content guy at one of the tier 1 carriers how many he had on staff. He laughed and said, “me and the guy in the next cube.”  



In other regions, network operators are still trying to make their play as content providers. Spanish and worldwide telecom provider Telefonica just cut a major deal with EA Mobile that could give its 300 million customers access to a large catalog of games, especially feature phone titles. In its first package, Telefonica-operated O2 in the UK will get three months of free access to all EA Mobile games in its catalog once the user downloads one of them.

In a statement Telefonica Digital (a recently formed group in the company aimed at global media expansion) CEO and Chairman Matthew Key said the deal placed his company at the center of a growth industry. Mobile gaming, he said, “accounts for the highest percentage of downloaded app and is the largest paid mobile content market today.”

The play here is in some ways an old-fashioned one for a telecom company –- use a major content brand to differentiate the commoditized technology and service. The oft-tried but not always proven model hopes to retain customers and attract new ones by appropriating beloved media brands. What is different here is the bundling and all-access aspect of the model.

While the all-you-can-eat model has migrated to music with Spotify and even magazine publishing with Next Issue’s tablet magazine play, mobile gaming has not really seen a prominent subscription plan yet.

I think this would be an interesting idea for one of the U.S. networks. Giving users access to a complete library of gaming titles might be a way for carriers to get back into the market of apps and content after Apple and Android pretty much excised them from the scene three years ago. Perhaps it is time for network operators to begin playing the app game where users are already used to playing it -- in the familiar stores.

Now that the app and mobile Web are showing their monstrous strength, let’s see some creative packaging and merchandising of the phenomenon.  

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