Commentary

Keeping It Real (Small)

I have been seeing so many ambitious plans for using the mobile platform lately, from mobile TV to full article downloads by newspapers and magazines, it is refreshing to see see a handful of new mobile launches that respect the art of brevity on handhelds and understand that less is more.

The Week magazine, that slim print digest of news and reviews, went mobile in a modest but smart way. Encouraged by everyone's favorite mobile sponsor, Windows Mobile, the magazine lets you subscribe to three SMS text alerts for its weekly summary of the best columns in the U.S., international, and business media.

Arguably, The Week is already written for mobile, since its half-page pieces are synopses or quotes from the other press, slugged by pithy headlines. In this unique distribution method, subscribers only get the descriptive headline pushed to their text inboxes and then elect to use the WAP link to open the longer column. According to The Week's President Justin Smith, this new brand extension fits neatly within the existing editorial workflow and leverages the brand's chief selling point, smart but brief. I love it, and apparently other readers do as well. The early response from the print plugs is surprising Smith and encouraging him to think about more mobile deployments down the line.

advertisement

advertisement

This and other mobile content experiments (MSNBC.com Mobile, NYTimes Mobile) are made possible because Microsoft marketers seem to be working hard behind the scenes. Apparently, they are bringing some of these good ideas to traditional media brands like The Week and guaranteeing long-term sponsor support, in this case nine months' worth.

While I am a fan of The Week, I have never been even vaguely interested in "Survivor." If I want to see human venality on show, I do what every other red-blooded American does--sit among the parents at suburban PeeWee soccer matches. Nevertheless, Hook Mobile's partnership with CBS to issue MMS trading cards of the realty show's cast is one of the first novel attempts to leverage the Multimedia Messaging Service and content sharing on phones. Texting a short code subscribes you to a random set of cards for the various cast members. Users can send the cards to others in a message, purchase more packs, and manage the collections online. I am loathe to imagine what kind of fanfreaks of this dwindling media property really want to "collect" such things. But I am also the guy who sniffed at his buddy hoarding all those "Star Wars" #1 comic books back in '78, so what the hell do I know?

MMS is a very promising marketing tool in large part because it is so efficient but deep. In this case it is a one-screen card with a too-small image of whatever self-promoting yingyangs are on "Survivor" this season. But it can also be an animation or multi-page rich media mini-show. It is mercifully brief and blessedly visual. And as the phone interfaces streamline for it, MMS is easily forwarded to others. We may finally get on mobile that "you-gotta-see-this" viral content distribution that propels short-short form Web entertainment.

And speaking of viral phenoms, one of the great instances of pass-along fame, JibJab, strengthened its mobile play last week with the launch of its "Great Sketch Experiment." JibJab made the 2004 election fun for everyone outside the Beltway with its "This Land" animated political parody. Since earlier this year, the company has been distributing comedy shorts via Verizon's VCast service, and the company tells me it thinks mobile offers just the right content and a very attractive revenue stream. True enough for JibJab, of course. Its production costs are tiny relative to major media, and it has viral mojo. With large, Flash graphical pieces, many of the Jib Jab seem made with mobile in mind.

The "Sketch Experiment" is also running on VCast, sponsored by Verizon Wireless. The project had director John Landis lens five of the top scripts submitted by comedy sketch troupes. The short films themselves are actually too long for mobile to my mind--up to five minutes each. Yet this is the kind of compact project that seems more appropriate to mobile than that silly notion of ongoing "mobisode" series.

All the Jib Jab project needs is more interactivity (voting via the mobile videos) and mobile viral distribution, and then it will approach the promised land of mobile content. Give it to us in creative bursts, short segments, and limited runs.

And while you are cutting things, how about snipping the price? Verizon itself got this message by announcing along with the Jib Jab premiere a new day pass pricing plan for VCast. Now anyone with a VCast-capable phone can pay a few dollars to access the service for a day and partake of these one-off series without committing to the ridiculous $15/month plan. Here's hoping that the formats will follow the new business model and encourage more development of limited-run ideas that just work better on handsets.

Media fragmentation also means media truncation.

Next story loading loading..