The growth prospects for off-portal content, and mobile music services in particular, are inextricably linked to operators’ data charges: the consumer may be able to purchase a track for GBP 1.50 from a third party, but it costs several times that amount in data charges to actually download the file to the handset. As such, operators have enjoyed a monopoly on music download services because they were the only companies who could price on a ‘per track’ basis, eliminating the additional data download charge.
However, this is about to change. mBlox, the mobile premium services provider, has agreed a deal with Vodafone to drastically cut data download charges on a wholesale basis. It’s platform will enable content providers such as New Vision – a specialist mobile music services company – to run full-track download sites on behalf of labels like Ministry of Sound and Virgin V2. mBlox claims its wholesale data rates will make it possible to offer a ‘per track’ price of around GBP 1.50 and still generate profits for the service provider, artists, labels and content provider.
Vodafone is the first operator to agree, Orange is said to be poised for a similar announcement and mBlox says other UK operators will follow later in 2006.
It is one of the most significant moves to-date for the off-portal content business. Rapid growth is already occuring in this area and that will increase as lower data charges enables a greater range of services.
Content discovery, a key part of the user experience, remains a major issue, but with market growth will come greater creativity and market effects should soon refine these offerings into something compelling for consumers. Links with existing marketing channels, such as TV, radio and print magazines, will be a key part of the off-portal content discovery experience and I expect to see a number of companies focusing on this area.
Bango, the payment platform provider, has a system for linking printed ‘barcodes’ direct to mobile internet sites via the phone camera, but all solutions of this nature require software to be installed on the device and this will always represent a stumbling block to market acceptance. This is an area crying out for a standardisation effort – I’d like to see handset manufacturers, network operators, publishers and advertising agencies getting together to agree a standard for ‘barcode’ recognition via phone cameras. This would enable manufacturers to embed the software during the production stages and provide marketeers with a standard method of linking to the mobile internet.