Mobile Marketing: TV gets personal

Advertisers must look to experiences in the US to get into the mindset of the mobile TV viewer.

We all did it, didn't we, when we were kids? Under the bedclothes at night, surreptitiously so that our parents couldn't see, ignoring warnings it would damage our eyesight.

Yes, the pleasure of that personal viewing experience, of night-time reading of favourite comics by torchlight, is just the kind of thing that makes me optimistic about the future of TV viewing on mobiles.

And, it seems, I'm not the only one backing this revolution. Channel 4 recently announced that it sees mobile TV news services as an important part of leveraging its £100 million five-year contract extension with ITN and other ventures into mobile TV include showing entire Hollyoaks episodes on mobile the day after TV transmission.

Last October, Motorola and MTV announced the launch of a series of mobisodes made especially for global distribution on mobile phones (www.headandbody.com).

Significantly, MTV put all the production values into the eight mobisodes that they would usually put into TV content. This strikes me as pretty smart since, if successful, mobisode concepts could make the leap to TV.

Mobile, rather like the web, could start to also act as a low-risk research and development space for programme-makers.

Personally, I can very easily imagine various scenarios where viewing programmes or edited footage on the mobile would make absolute sense.

I may not watch a 30-minute news bulletin, but I certainly would tune in for breaking news if I was out and about and would even happily be prompted by a text for certain issues that interest me.

I even think there is a market for simply concurrent streaming of what's on TV at the time. Train journeys can be boring and what better than to watch Match of the Day while stranded at Crewe station on a Saturday night.

Or perhaps dedicated EastEnders watchers would be interested to receive an exclusive three-minute "soap bubble" clip of Grant explaining why he ripped that bloke's head off in last night's episode.

So, assuming (and it's a big assumption) the technology to deliver TV via mobile works perfectly every time and assuming we can imagine programming that makes sense on this most personal of media channels, two further questions arise. Will enough people want to watch this stuff, and who will pay for it, viewers or advertisers?

According to Telephia, which monitors mobile performance in the US, some three million wireless subscribers in the US streamed TV or played video content on their mobile devices in the final quarter of 2005. Though we shouldn't mistake this for being just mobile phones, the figures still indicate a demand for TV viewing on the move. The same study showed that 18- to 24-year-olds are the biggest users of mobile TV and men are more likely to stream TV and play video content on their wireless devices and mobiles than women.

This kind of feedback will be needed to make the case to potential advertisers and their funding will be vital. Of course, some content will be of high enough quality, have real exclusivity or, frankly, be porn, and subscriptions will be where the money is made. But there is a cost of creating and delivering TV content for mobile or simply repurposing existing content.

So, is there room for advertisers? In the UK, mobile TV is still in the experimental stages. Sky is "broadcasting" to Vodafone Live subscribers who are willing to pay extra every month. Orange has been offering "Orange TV" on some handsets and the Virgin/ntl group will see mobile TV as a key area for commercial exploitation. Again, the opportunities and pitfalls are starting to be seen already in the US.

Anheuser-Busch announced a deal with MobiTV that will see its ads put in front of the mobile TV network's one million subscribers. The package includes ESPN, Fox, ABC and MSNBC programming on Sprint, Cingular and Alltel phones. Ads will be run at a rate of 18 an hour across MobiTV's 30 channels. However, despite the stated audience of 21- to 35-year-olds, Anheuser-Busch is being accused of marketing beer to underage drinkers.

And how should advertisers get their message through on mobile TV? Five-second "blipverts" run during programming? Product placement in mobisodes?

Or the sponsorship route with accompanying break-bumpers?

These models have their drawbacks, since the viewer is likely to be watching no more than perhaps ten minutes at a time or may even be watching illicitly at their workplace - they won't appreciate precious viewing time being lost to ads. But, in whatever circumstance they are watching, I believe great content will be developed for mobile TV, the technology will get there and people will want to watch it.

The challenge to advertisers will be to understand fully the mindset of the mobile TV viewer and deliver a sympathetic advertising experience.

After all, think back all those years ago to that torch under the bedclothes and how shocked you were when your mum interrupted you ...

- Charlie Dobres is the founder of i-level.

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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).