P Diddy As An MVNO: Mobile Content's Savior Or Lead Lemming?
By Mike Masnick, Tue Mar 15 03:30:00 GMT 2005

P Diddy gave a speech at CTIA today that left some scratching their heads, but which clearly laid out the way entertainment companies view mobile content. That might not be such a good thing.

You might not expect P Diddy to have much of interest to say on the topic of mobile content. In fact, MocoNews, who recorded and transcribed his talk summarized it by saying "the speech in itself didn't make a lot of sense." However, it actually was quite telling in showing how the content industry views the mobile world. Quite simply, they view their role as being the gatekeepers.

This is made clear in P Diddy's statement claiming, "I am an MVNO," followed by explaining that while he doesn't have a network or spectrum, he does "have subscribers.... tens of millions of them; subscribers, who spent billions of dollars every year on music, on fast foods, on cosmetics, on soda, and yes, on consumer electronics and wireless communications technology." While that might not meet the true definition of an MVNO, he makes his point even clearer in the following sentence: "I know where they live, what they like, what they eat and what they drink, I know what they wear, and more importantly for you, I know how to communicate to them, I know how to talk to them."

In other words, the point of an MVNO, or any mobile content offering, is that someone has to be the leader, telling the clueless masses what to consume. There needs to be a gatekeeper, and P Diddy expects the gatekeeper to be himself: "My company and other can take advantage of the power of the latest 3G technologies that allow customers to easily use and virally spread the content... I give them want they want, I show them the way... I am the Mobile Virtual Network Operator."

This is, of course, how the entertainment industry has viewed the content business for years. It's a "broadcast" business, where the industry makes the decisions on what people want and leads them to the right content. The problem is that there's lots of evidence that this model is shifting. In the era of the long tail, it's not about the industry choosing content for consumers. In the era of communications technologies like the Internet and mobile phones, it's not about one way content designed and marketed to specific demographics. It's about specialized content. It's about communications and interactivity between individuals.

It's fitting that he easily makes the leap from the content business to being an operator, because so many mobile operators also view themselves as the gatekeepers who decide what it is you can see and do with your mobile data service. When the two industries clash, the problems get even worse. Witness the recent delay in the iTunes phone from Motorola. It was delayed after operators freaked out that users would no longer need to go through their tollbooth to get music onto the phone. Between the two sides trying so hard to lock up the users, they're all missing the point, and heading down the wrong road.

It's not the mobile content business, but the mobile communications business. Focusing on ways to help people communicate and interact and the content finds its way onto the network. It's not about being the gatekeepers, but the guides. It's not about broadcasting, but helping users share content with each other. P Diddy describes the mobile content business as a party -- and he's right. The question, though, is whether or not that party needs him as the entertainment, or if all the attendees can create their own entertainment.