The value of content in a content-driven world

Text messaging was, and remains, the surprise package for the mobile industry. Now a major income generator, SMS was never intended for mass public consumption – the channel was used mostly by engineers to test connectivity or to report the arrival of voicemail messages to users. Ironically, multimedia messaging – MMS – was planned and was supposed to signal the beginning of the end for SMS. But despite the massive effort – and marketing bucks – put in by the mobile operators, uptake was slow and remains slow to this day. People rarely want to send photos or short video to each other, and people certainly don’t want to play around with their MMS compiler to put a simple message together. Why bother with all that when SMS is much cheaper, is usually enough for the job, and much easier to work?

Multimedia messaging was a classic case of a technology looking for a market. Maybe we’re seeing it all over again with mobile TV.

A recent report in TechnologyGuardian reveals that only 0.7% of the UK’s 45 million mobile phone users watch mobile TV on their phones. Indeed. Why pay to watch content on your phone which you can already get at home on your TV? And why spend that extra money when the user experience often leaves a lot to be desired? I, for one, don’t know a single person who watches television on their mobile, either in the US, Europe or the UK.

What mobile TV is lacking is killer content. Mobile operators – as they did with 3G (another relative failure) – were convinced that people would jump at the chance to watch TV on-the-go and didn’t seem to spend too much time working out why they would want to do it and what exactly it was that they would want to watch. What they didn’t seem to figure out was that it is killer content that drives mobile data usage – the websites, services, blogs, social networks, whatever – not the technology which allows it to happen. And to prove the point, T-Mobile recently announced that sites like Bebo, MySpace and Facebook were driving mobile media usage in the UK. If the content or service is there, then people will happily use the technology at their disposal to access it.

As if things weren’t bad enough, another survey taken last month concluded that, despite the continuing emergence of new mobile applications, the address book remains the primary killer app on a mobile phone. Who would have believed it?