Making An Offer You Can't Refuse
By Peggy Anne Salz, Wed Sep 10 14:15:00 GMT 2003

Make way for MMS news services and snippets - sure to capture user attention and move the mobile market to a new level.

MMS/picture messaging is the mobile industry's next growth story. But, while some argue about precisely when the lucrative mass market will materialize, the much bigger mystery is why current usage is so low.

Ovum Ltd. in the UK estimates there will be some 80 million camera phones worldwide by end-2003, and 435 million by 2008.

Take up is another story. In Western Europe, Ovum counts only 4-5 messages per month. John Delaney, Ovum principal analyst, suggests that usage "could be considerably lower."

Clearly, person-to-person (P2P) picture messaging, at least in Europe, is going to need a bigger push to overcome obstacles such as interoperability. As Delaney aptly observes, "P2P is in for a fairly long haul."

Against this backdrop, machine-to-person (M2P) picture messaging could jump-start the flagging market. While the P2P model requires two individuals, M2P requires only one - and some must-have MMS content.

Vodafone Live! in Germany is proof that push could be where the action (and money) is. Together with its content partners Vodafone has launched some 10 MMS breaking-news services Vodafone Germany's customer research confirms "push services are at the top of the list in terms of popularity and use," notes Dirk Hemmerden, the company's head of content. "Push is also the key differentiator in mobile."

Pull services allow the user to compare wireless and online experiences - and see the many shortcomings. In contrast, push services are a new experience for the user - making such comparisons impossible. "Push is simply outstanding," Hemmerden beams. "Users who try it get addicted to it." What's more, delivery is a breeze. "We're faster than every other news delivery channel - including CNN."

This week Vodafone Germany added a new service that delivers news from the IAA, Frankfurt's automobile trade show. "This medium is perfect to deliver information to users about local events that interest them," Hemmerden says. Moreover, the medium allows Vodafone Germany to offer users fresh content - and adapt immediately to user preferences.

Push allows for a unique user experience, and a new business model TheFeature is tracking. TheFeature revealed that TV production company Endemol was developing an MMS soap opera with Dutch operators, and later reported that MSN Netherlands had launched a world-first MMS soap opera as an extension to its online offer.

TheFeature has also launched Scream, its own MMS news and views service that invites the industry's movers and shakers - as well as members of The Feature's own cutting-edge community - to voice opinions on hot industry issues.

But to make the MMS market happen, operators have to be more proactive about M2P. They need to change their mindset, explore new "broadcast" business models - and aggressively push content to users that is original, exciting and personal. The Vodafone example shows the content doesn't always have to be big name. Breaking news and local events can also be crowd-pleasers.