The Content Conundrum
It's already clear how the content cards are stacking up. Major vendors are buying up or partnering with startups and larger providers to secure a serious portfolio of music, video, ads, and data, as well as the means to deliver them.
For instance, AOL Inc. (NYSE: AOL) today announced plans to buy mobile ad provider Third Screen Media for an undisclosed sum. Meanwhile, Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) has just inked a music deal with Napster.
The reason for all the activity in the market place is the promise of huge rewards. Informa plc recently predicted that the market for content and services on mobile phones could be worth $150 billion by 2011. Sure, analysts have been predicting big things for mobile content since around the turn of the century, but the growth of the ring tone and messaging markets has helped to stimulate interest in mobile content.
One problem, though, is the vast number of devices that comprise the market, with more arriving all the time. It is hard to target content when the viewing device could be a cellphone, a webpad, or a laptop. The problem gets thornier as people start to carry multiple connected devices and want to access their content on more than just a phone. (See Converged Hiccup.)
Standards -- even de facto standards -- are lacking as well. For instance, several mobile browsers are out there, from old WAP applications through to offerings from Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), Opera Software ASA , Palm Inc. , and others.
This doesn't even take into consideration the question of mobile developers. Polaris Venture Partners 's mobile maven Simeon Simeonov believes there around a million dedicated mobile content developers in the world as opposed to ten times that number working on the Web. He calls the world of mobile content a "fractured ecosystem" and suggests one way to improve is to make it easier for Web developers to work on mobile projects. (See Google Spy: Big Team Picking Up Phone.)
Talk of a possible tie-up between Microsoft and Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) is also an interesting prospect for the mobile content market. Such chatter seems to have faded for now but Unstrung contributor and Farpoint Group analyst Craig Mathias says that a Microsoft merger on that scale would be a "major development" that could help to make the content conundrum a bit clearer but still not obvious for carriers and developers.
"I don't think anyone fully understands [mobile content] yet," he says. "The entire landscape is just too fluid for one company to dominate."
Mathias suggests that eventually, mobile content will have to move to a Web services model, decoupling the content from a specific device or browser type. This would require a standardized way of integrating multiple mobile protocols so that they can be used together to build modular applications that can be pushed over a network.
"In the end, it has to be Web services," says Mathias. Don't hold your breath!
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung