Many Campaign readers probably still remember the sense of amazement they felt when they learned that someone would pay money for a ringtone for their mobile phone.
But the market for mobile downloads, including TV, games, music and movie clips, is forecast to be worth £1.14 billion by the end of the decade, according to research by PayPal and Datamonitor.
The sale of mobile phone content until recently has been largely down to the desire to personalise handsets - with ringtones and wallpaper - and, of course, that universal driver of new media, porn.
But this month has seen two notable developments: Sky's decision to stream live Premier League games over mobile, and Orange's launch of a TV station devoted to Frank Lampard, the Chelsea and England footballer.
Mobile TV is proving a tricky sell in the world of mobile content: Virgin Mobile TV is to close, for example, while ITV has struggled to reach a deal over the way advertising is sold on its mobile offering.
Yet these cases are symptomatic of what those working in the mobile content industry view as a flawed proposition, rather than evidence that content can't generate ad revenue.
Douglas McDonald, the client services director of the mobile consultancy Sponge, says: "Ideally, mobile TV should be short, cheap and developed for a smaller screen. Much of what is available is none of these things."
Orange seems to understand this. Its Frank TV channel ties in with its other sports content and is using the content to drive traffic. An Orange spokesman says: "Sport content has always been responsible for driving a large portion of our portal traffic."
Another content area that is booming, because of the improvement of handsets to include better speakers and bigger, colour screens, is mobile games.
McDonald says: "Uptake is continuing to increase, mainly because of the increased capabilities of handsets. This means that handsets are capable of running far more complex games. "
The rise of social networking services, such as Facebook, is also likely to boost the number of people accessing their providers' web offerings. But no one seems quite sure how to make this work for advertisers and sponsors. As Luca Pagano, the managing director of the mobile specialist Buongiorno, says: "Consumers tell us they want absolutely free content, but is there a viable model yet? No."
1. Last week, Sky Sports streamed the first live Premier League game on mobile, allowing fans to watch Wigan versus Middlesbrough, if they subscribed to the Sports Pack on Sky Mobile TV, which runs on Orange and T- Mobile. It plans to show all of the 92 Barclays Premier League matches to which it has rights on mobile.
2. Orange has launched a mobile TV channel devoted entirely to Lampard, known as Frank TV. It will be available to the 1.3 million Orange 3G customers alongside other channels including BBC, Channel 4, Sky and FHM, and offers footage that has not been seen elsewhere and access to Lampard's house, pets and training sessions.
3. Virgin Mobile scrapped its mobile television service, which showed channels including BBC1 and ITV1, less than 12 months after its £2.5 million launch. This was owing to a decision by BT in July to close its Movio division, which provided the technology for Virgin Mobile TV, owing to poor customer demand.
4. T-Mobile is offering advertiser-funded programming on its mobile internet portal. Unveiled earlier this month, the portal will offer entertainment and celebrity news and film clips for free, with advertising from brands including Lynx, Nivea and Heat magazine. Customers will be required to submit basic demographic data before using the service for the first time, to ensure they receive relevant advertising.
6. In May this year, Goodfella's signed up as the first brand advertiser on Sky Mobile TV, running advertising for its Goodfella's Solos, as part of a wider deal with the broadcaster.
7. In June, ITV said it would push ahead with plans to launch its mobile service across the operators O2, Orange and Vodafone, without advertising revenue because the companies could not reach a deal over the rights to sell ads.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- Mobile penetration is incredibly high and, because of its ability to pinpoint where a user is at any given time, mobile advertising could be ideal for offering localised, personalised advertising.
- However, according to Marco Bertozzi, the head of digital at ZenithOptimedia, mobile is one of the most frustrating media. "Until operators make accessing services 100 per cent basic, and until this doesn't cost a fortune, they are never going to get the volumes that are particularly attractive to advertisers," he says.
- Premium content such as Sky's live Premier League stream is ad-free and subscriber funded, but there is a real appetite out there for free content, and a real opportunity for media agencies to come up with compelling, bespoke ways of getting their clients messages out to mobile users.
- Streaming live television on mobiles is likely to be of limited appeal in a world that is increasingly about on-demand, interactive services. As Pagano says: "Providing original, made-for-mobile content will be the most effective way of raising uptake beyond the convenience factor."
- Sales of mobile content were meant to shore up mobile phone profits as the market for new customers dried up and call costs fell. However, McDonald says: "Apart from games, porn and exclusive content available on the operator portals such as Vodafone Live and Orange World, most of the content that is getting on to phones is added via a cable by the consumers themselves, rather than being bought." Orange is one of the mobile companies tapping in to this trend, with its Buff or Rough service, and a talent contest.