So I'm at the Symbian Talking Heads event.
Q: What is one thing you'd like to change to make mobile content a reality, or more of a success?
A1: More immediacy in the access to content (incl. purchasing process). The more immediate it is, the more I'd use it.
A2: Better user experience and trust.
A3: Third parties can already do this stuff; having operators act consistently would help drive the market.
A4: Completion of the whole ecosystems, better publishing tools, better discovery, mechanisms for people other than those with serious commercial intent to make money. Create an economy so people can innovate.
Q: Drilling down on content discovery: typically either content comes with the handset, or it's purchased from an MNO. Is this the future?
A1: There are other ways, e.g. the ringtone market. T-Mobile decided not to pursue the ringtone market 6 years ago (!). Third parties made the proposition stick, now operators have 25-40% share of ringtones. In 5 years time, what's on the device and what the operator chooses to serve up to you will be a minority.
A2: Search makes a lot of sense on mobile, when it's optimised for that device.
Q: On the fixed internet, content is free. Is it feasible for ad support to make content free on mobile?
A1: Not unless the advertising works! Part of the issue with the ad model is that lessons from the web model are getting blurred. The web ad model matured with keyword search, not banners: it was targeting that delivered results. Location is the competitive advantage of mobile. The problem is not how to put banners on a small screen, but tapping into keyword search and advertising to local folks (Bleh!)
Q: So will most content be free in a couple of years?
A1: If you can change the ad model.
A2: We'll look at advertising in combination with other forms of content. People have a 1-1 relationship with their phone, which helps with targeting. Most of us appreciate adverts if they're relevant to us (really?)
A3: When people search, they're more accepting of advertising because it's answering a query. Keyword search works. Banners ad on mobile? The jury's out on that one, the production costs of interruptive banner advertising may not be met by revenue from ads.
A4: The internet benefits from a broadband business model, while mobile is on dial-up (with extortionate charges!). £20/meg for data is just rude.
Q: Will data charges be affordable in 2-3 years?
A1: I was ready for this last year but it didn't come.
A2: There are services which users will pay more for when packaged up properly. RIM has shown this; email may be one.
A3: Who's going to buy their holiday to Mauritius through their mobile phone? Well, people do. This might be an interesting model but it won't drive sales significantly.
Q: (from ex-operator X guy) Music downloads are working well. 20% of Gnarls Barkley downloads in the UK were via operator X, at £1.50 per track, taking 90 seconds to download. The other 80%, pretty well, were via iTunes. Watchwords for mobile content: immediate, relevant, social. SeeMe TV: 12m downloads in its first year. The one thing we need to see are devices and organisations that think of content as >10% of their business. Handset ergonomics are vital but not influenced by the industry as a whole.
A1: Handset vendors are leading the propositions now, towards being media devices: e.g. Nokia have a music device. Operators need to do the same thing.
Q: What else is needed in the device?
A1: I'm waiting for devices not specifically optimised for voice with staying power. The turning point comes with this.
Q: So long as devices are oriented around phone calls, will content remain 10% of revenues?
A: 90% of operator revenues come from voice and SMS, the voice business is an 800-pound gorilla. It's going to be a struggle for content moving forwards.
Q: One large European operator launched the RAZR before knowing that voice on it worked properly, thanks to consumer demand. Isn't there a catch-22 here: demand is obviously for devices that do voice. Are you asking operators to sell people devices they don't want?
A: There aren't more applications out there because of a lack of ecosystem. e.g. pricing: looking at the BBC home page might cost me 20p on a dodgy T-Mobile package.
Q: So what will consumers want in large quantities?
A: Email. Flat subscription fees for data+content. Mobile TV will take a while.
Q: (Content provider) We don't know better than anyone else how to target consumers. They want this stuff, they just don't know they can have it. How do we educate customers?
A1: Some examples are TV programmes to encourage awareness of texting.
A2: We're not trying to create new content for mobile, we want to embed mobility into content we already have.
And then, I had to go. Good debate, really interesting stuff. A sense of exasperation, but quiet confidence.