Mobile Plus Entertainment Doesn't Always Equal Mobile Entertainment
By Mike Masnick, Sat Jan 29 01:30:00 GMT 2005

There's a mad dash in the wireless industry to push "mobile entertainment" offerings. Unfortunately, many of these seem to be done with little understanding of how people use mobile devices, how people experience entertainment and (most importantly) what people want.

The buzz is in the air. Thanks to the success of things like ringtones, "mobile entertainment" is supposed to be big business. However, most attempts outside of ringtones haven't done quite as well as expected, and the latest trend is to try to more closely mimic ringtones on the assumption that, if ringtones were successful, something just sort of like ringtones can ride on that success. That's lead not only to ringback tones, but also tones that can be played during a call.

Of course, others still insist on pushing forward with other plans to create massive mobile entertainment empires, insisting that their experience in the mobile realm qualifies them to be mobile media moguls. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests they're missing the mark. By a wide margin.

While more people are beginning to question whether or not they're really interested in paying extra to see choppy video on a tiny screen, some even bigger problems with the mobile entertainment market are becoming clear. First is the "convergence problem." Even if you can tie entertainment functions to a mobile device, it doesn't mean you can do it very well. While it may be a nifty conversation piece to be able to do mobile television, the first time something goes wrong, people will remember that consumer electronics products tend to work somewhat reliably, while computing devices don't.

When it comes to broadcast style entertainment, it's about the user kicking back and experiencing the content. This tends to mean that they have the time to watch or listen to content and that there's nothing else more compelling somewhere else. The last thing they want to do is face hurdles, such as the need to configure something, or wait for something to start playing. TV at home works because you turn it on and it works -- and the user can sit back and relax while watching it. Radio in the car works, because you turn it on and it starts playing, and the user has no where else to go. On a mobile phone, there are other options, and if things cost too much and don't work as easily as consumer electronics, they'll find other things to do.

More importantly, people still view their mobile phones as communications devices first. They buy them so they can talk to others or SMS others. Not because it lets them watch TV when they're away from home (an application that's even less compelling in the age of TiVo). In fact, study after study after study all seem to show that people want to use their phones to communicate. There's very little interest or demand in being able to watch broadcast style content. It might be a nice to have on the side, but it's not going to drive users and it's unlikely to be a huge revenue driver.

That isn't to say there isn't a market for mobile entertainment. In fact, it's likely to be a huge market -- it's just that it has to be built on the foundation of communication and interaction, rather than broadcast. This is in the form of communicating with each other for entertainment purposes, interactive gaming, file sharing and other forms of entertainment that actually take into account that the user is mobile and connected -- rather than stationary and isolated. Simply moving entertainment to a mobile device and calling it mobile entertainment is missing the point. If there's no reason for that entertainment to be mobile, there's no reason anyone's going to be willing to pay anything extra to get it.