Commentary

Wishful Predicting

Truth be told, most smart PR people understand just how lazy most writers can be. Throughout the holiday season, our inboxes swell with executive predictions that seem designed either to attract a quick and easy interview or just prompt a slapdash cut-and-paste article of executive views. Ironically, in this year when no one knows what the hell is going to happen in the media and ad markets next year, a bumper crop of executives decided to play the predictions game.

 

Or perhaps it is fitting. After all, this is the year when our own Secretary of the Treasury did an about-face with $700 billion in a matter of weeks. When CEOs of all stripes begged for government cash because of their own poor foresight, and not a single one apologized for their malfeasance. When every American who drew down the equity in his inflated home investment misread the extent of the housing bubble. We are in an age of low accountability and poor visibility. Why not make predictions when no one seems to be taking it all very seriously?

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Most executive forecasts for 2009 I have read are wishful predicting, hopeful visions that their own business models, industry segments, niche market will thrive because the market suddenly recognizes the unique value proposition they offer. I will spare us all of those. Apparently, 2009 will be the year mobile video or mobile banners or m-commerce or local advertising or MMS or (fill in your own business fantasy) will take off. Somewhere in the pile of prognostications I received in the last month, however, a handful seemed prescient or intriguing enough to contemplate at greater length.

According to the Mobile Entertainment Forum, social networking will become an important driver of mobile entertainment. Now here is an interesting proposition. MediaPost's own Mark Walsh reports today The Kelsey Group and ConStat found 10% of mobile users already access these social network services by phone. As mobile social networks like AirG and MocoSpace well know, the sheer volume of activity on mobile social networks can be as staggering as they are a challenge to monetize with advertising. But when it comes to "did-you-see?" or "have-you-read" discussions of media properties, they are an amazingly untapped marketing platform.

Whether social networks really will successfully drive mobile entertainment is an open question to me. Incompatibilities across handsets and networks still thwart the kind of media-sharing eco-system we all dream about. But the value of these channels to off-mobile film, TV and book promotion seems amazing to me, if marketers can figure out a way in. I know that in my household, several book authors and weekend film choices have been determined by the buzz my daughter sees moving across her MySpace and Facebook pages. For large segments of the mobile population, social networks are becoming taste barometers.

In fact, I would go further and say that social networking is going to emerge as one of the activities that is easier to do on phones than on the Web. As the Facebook and MySpace experiences online become more cluttered, the mobile versions simply are easier to use. This same principle holds true for a few media categories like weather, sports and news headlines. In key content segments, we will start to see significant shares move from Web to mobile. Not only is mobile more convenient, but the platform enforces an economy of design and information that is missing online.

Apps Rule! I will concede to all of the predictions from all corners that iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, and maybe Windows Mobile marketplaces will shift design attention towards the downloadable app. As the guys at 2ergo say in their predictions (echoed by others), developers see a real money-making model here that speaks directly to consumers and circumvents the carriers.

Yeah, but in defense of the beleaguered operators, many of their legitimate concerns about open gardens will start rearing their ugly heads as well. Technical support, hardware bugs, even viral outbreaks will be the dark side of marketplaces. But beyond that, the enthusiasm over applications development still does not address two ghosts haunting mobile eco-systems: discovery and distribution. For years, I listened to media brands claim they wanted more direct access to mobile consumers so they could activate the massive content marketing/merchandising machines and push their customers to mobile media in ways the carriers never dreamed. OK, now they have that direct access, but I see precious little evidence of major media companies committing promotional space to mobile, outside of a press release. It feels a lot like 1998, when the "Internet teams" were fighting just to get their URL mentioned in marketing materials. The marketplaces will get very cluttered and developers need to cultivate other means to get noticed.

Online retail moves in. Mobile Web tech and analytics company Bango comes in with a vision that seems plausible. They boldly predict that "one major 'e-commerce' retailer will acquire a D2C mobile content provider to expand its presence in digital content." Since the prediction also refers to "online music, video and books" as well as an attempt by a "major player" to threaten Apple's music dominance, I assume they really mean Amazon.

I don't know if such a thing will happen, but I for one would love to see it. Amazon's music store is superb, with higher quality tracks and more DRM-free music than Apple. Their digital book library is expansive, and they have strong relationships with existing media companies to get more. Their video solution is better than its reputation. And most of the mobile iterations of the Amazon.com store are exceptional. I would love to see Amazon plug its database, recommendation engine and merchandising skills behind mobile media, games, applications, books and music.

Amazon vs. Apple. Now that would make the 2009 mobile market worth watching.

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