Seeding Content Development
By Carlo Longino, Tue May 31 19:45:00 GMT 2005

Many content businesses spend a lot of money on content development, while mobile operators do their best to resist. Can mobile content ever go beyond repurposed existing content without meaningful carrier support?

i-mode Strategy reports on a common complaint from mobile developers: that operators demanding mobile content to sell to their users have very little interest in subsidizing its development. Television companies pay production companies to produce pilots of new shows; record labels pay for recording and other costs. But as things stand in the mobile content world, operators want developers to assume essentially all the risk of developing new content, then want to take a cut of any sales. So, if things stay this way, it's hard to see mobile content moving beyond repurposed (ie already-paid-for) content adapted for mobile devices.

Some operators like NTT DoCoMo are putting money into technology development by investing in companies doing technical research. But at the same time, DoCoMo says it's delaying its HSDPA launch because there's no content to make use of the high-speed connections. So, if DoCoMo is to be believed, the fast network is ready; the content is not. So why increase technology spending, but not throw content developers some cash?

Few operators realize this need and back it up. Korea's SK Telecom took advice to learn from the recording industry to heart, announcing recently it would buy the country's biggest record label to seed content for its WiBro and mobile broadcasting networks. It's a radical approach when compared to many operators, who demand applications that aren't cheap to develop, like branded games, then will only sell apps which have been put through a demanding signing and approval process.

In this environment, it's not surprising to see a lot of innovation coming out of universities and from individual users knocking together small apps -- both places where the commercial constraints and financial pressures are minimal. But to support this type of innovation, from which carriers will invariably benefit , a wholesale change of view is required. Seeding developers with some monetary support is a solid first step, if it's doled out VC-style, or via advances. Another is to make phones and networks "more hackable", that is to simplify development for them, not just for commercial developers, but for people to explore unimagined uses and applications. Yet another is to empower lead users to lead the way on innovation. In any case, it's hard to see mobile content move forward very quickly without more -- and better -- operator support.