Commentary

Off-Portal, Off-Radar, On-Target

When Myxer.com's co-founder/CTO Myk Willis and his partner took a meeting with a record label recently, they listened to the big media honcho brag about how much mobile content the brand was delivering. The Myxer boys listened to what the big label thought were impressive monthly sales numbers, quietly looked at each other and thought -- "We sell that much in a day," says Willis. In fact, the success of Myxer.com, a roll-your-own ringtone and wallpaper provider for independent bands is a prime example of an entire mobile content industry that is evolving off deck and under the radar of carriers and the big media that the networks now court.

"When I look at my daily reports," says Willis, "we are at just below 80,000 ringtones a day, which would be one a second. It blows my mind." The site went from selling 1 million pieces of content monthly at the end of 2006 to tracking at about 2 million for May. About 1 million people have already used the service to buy content, and 500,000 uniques come to the Myxer site each month.

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Even more remarkable is the nominal cost of marketing. Myxer.com is not present on any carrier decks. Myxer offers independent bands, and just about anyone else, the ability to upload their own songs to create a ringtone. The bands can upload a tune and use online tools to edit the tone. They can then post the tone on their own MySpace or home Web sites, a link that kicks the buyer over to the Myxer store for fulfillment via an SMS push to the phone. Myxer gets its traffic first and foremost from natural search results on users searching for their favorite indie bands, and then from MySpace. The online tools are simple enough for any user to roll and send himself his own tone, but Willis says about 80% of downloads involve indie bands. If their numbers are accurate, then this is an off-deck, off-label, product that demonstrates how much mobile activity is going on off-radar and outselling the big brands.

Many people I speak with in the more formal mobile content community believe that it is nigh impossible to build a new media brand on mobile. The discovery process is too challenging here; the deck is too limited an interface for a mobile Yahoo or eBay to emerge, goes the argument. Certainly the carriers reinforce this view by courting the major media, all in the belief that it takes a familiar brand to stand out on the platform. But at the same time, companies like Myxer as well as MobileSidewalk are working the search engines and Web-based viral/social networks to build mobile audiences that could care less what the carriers offer inside their walled (or severely gated) gardens.

Another interesting aspect to off-portal delivery is how many people are continuing to discover this channel. Willis says that a very large percentage of Myxer users continue to be first-timers who are just discovering mobile content generally and the mobile Web in particular. "We still don't find that many savvy users coming to the site," he says.

There is a serious dearth of education in the mobile space. I have been hearing this again and again from mobile content providers big and small, no-names and major brands. The content providers are educating users, not the carriers.

There is an opportunity here for brand marketers to go off portal as well. Volkswagon has already used Myxer to make ringtones attached to characters in a recent TV ad campaign (http://www.mvisible.com/myxertags_branding.html). The branded tones were distributed via a MySpace page for the campaign. Likewise, Harley-Davidson and Bazooka bubble gum have made Myxer tones, without having to go to a carrier or to a mobile marketing company.

Increasingly, companies are finding ways to circumvent the deck and collect audiences where they pursue their passions -- not when they happen to flip their phone.

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