Contrasting Mobile Content Strategies
By Carlo Longino, Tue Apr 26 22:30:00 GMT 2005

Old-media publishers are finally beginning to recognize their mobile strategy needs to involve more than some thrown-together WAP pages. But while some are embracing mobile technology, others see it merely as a marketing channel to drive revenues of existing businesses.

Time Inc. has hired a firm to help come up with a mobile strategy for its magazines, starting with People and Teen People. Sounds like a big deal -- one of the world's foremost old-media publishers getting hip to mobile -- but upon closer inspection, it doesn't sound too compelling. Time has hired Flytxt, a mobile marketing company, to do the work, which sounds like it will be focused around driving subscribers to Time's existing publications, rather than really figuring out how best to use mobile for content.

The Flytxt press release has a pretty high buzzword ratio, its CEO saying its work will "help to drive incremental revenues, increase audience-brand proximity, and extend brand communication into the personal sphere," which basically translates to "remind people to buy magazines" with some lowest-common-denominator services thrown in for good measure: the first step is a celebrity news service, hitting users with a text message every day for $4 a month.

Contrast the rhetoric surrounding Time's plans with that of the BBC, which also recently gave some details on its mobile strategy (granted, the BBC is a publicly funded, public-service organization with vastly different motives than a for-profit entity). The Beeb, whose sites are a top destination for wired Web users, says its goal is to make its mobile versions just as valuable.

It's already talking about enabling location-based services with its existing local operations around the UK, and making its popular BBC Radio Player, which holds a week's worth of broadcasts from its numerous radio stations, mobile-friendly. It's also mentioned the forthcoming Interactive Media Player and Creative Archive, which will make current and archived television footage available, as candidates for mobilization.

Which strategy sounds more interesting, more useful and just plain cooler? The one that engages users with compelling content combined with creative uses of technology, not the one that charges users for the privilege of marketing to them. The mobile Web still tends to be pretty underwhelming, and of the two strategies, it's pretty clear which is the better bet not just for near-term entertainment, but for long-term gain as well.