14 February 2008

Mobilephones will change journalism

With the recent push for citizen journalism by many media houses (print, TV and online), the mobilephone has become an indispensable device for reporting news. However, the mobilephone – with camera, audio, video and uploading/emailing features – has been viewed as an amateur’s attempt at news reporting, and given less credit than the equipment used by professionals in their line of work.

However, all that may be changing soon – according to an article in The Guardian, Forget shorthand – a camera phone is the new tool of the journalist’s trade, by Jeff Jarvis, who is journalism professor at City University of New York. In the article, Prof Jarvis claims that the mobilephone is “the new tool of the journalist’s trade,” and feels it will be an indispensable unit of the journalist’s gear in the future.

Citing Reuters’ mobile journalist (mojo) initiative – used in the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this month – which equips reporters with the Nokia N82 phone for professional work, Prof Jarvis writes that the N82 mobilephones “are kitted with a wireless keyboard, a miniature tripod, a solar battery and a small microphone – along with all the relevant software to edit and publish multimedia content.”

He suggests, “The portability and discreet look of all-in-one devices, apart from their practicality, also change the relationship between journalists and interviewees…”

To know more about Reuters’ mobile journalist initiative and Jeff Jarvis’ views on using mobilephone technology in journalism, read The Guardian article here.

[Citation: The Guardian, Forget shorthand – a camera phone is the new tool of the journalist’s trade, Jeff Jarvis, 11 February 2008.]

13 February 2008

Robert Redford pitches the 4th screen

“The GSMA continues to take seriously both the business of delivering content and the art of creating content, as they lead the exciting mobile sector into the future.”
– Robert Redford, actor/director/producer

Until recently, I was not aware of Hollywood megastar Robert Redford’s involvement in, and contribution to, the world of mobilephones.

Redford, who, besides his Hollywood role, has been nurturing the independent film and independent filmmakers through his Sundance Film Festival and the Sundance Institute since the early 1980s, has now become a key force in the exploration and promotion of content delivery on the mobilephone.

As I write this post, Robert Redford is at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, presenting his argument that “the mobile phone is the ‘fourth screen’ – after theater, television and the iPod – extending the reach of movies to new audiences in the global community.”

According to a recent article in EETimes by R Colin Johnson, Robert Redford pitches mobile phone as '4th screen' at confab, Redford believes

“…independent film makers have a unique opportunity to reach new audiences in the global community via their tiny mobile-phone screens. Last year, the Mobile World Congress showcased independent films on mobile phones from the Sundance Film Festival, which is sponsored by the Sundance Institute, of which Redford is founder and president.

This year the Congress invited Redford to participate by keynoting the Mobile Entertainment track within the Congress, where he will address the opportunities for both artists and independent filmmakers to reach mobile-phone viewers worldwide.”

[Citation: Mobile World Congress press release; EETimes article Robert Redford pitches mobile phone as '4th screen' at confab, R Colin Johnson, 11 Feb 2008.]

12 February 2008

Bridging the digital divide

From what I’ve read in the Indian media, Sri Dhirubhai Ambani (the late don of the Reliance Group) had said that, with mobilephones, the whole world is in your hands. In fact, at the moment, there’s a Reliance Communications mobile blog ad campaign running which is using these very words of Sri Dhirubhai Ambani as its theme.

To tell you the truth, I do believe that, with 2 billion mobilephone users around the world (that’s double the number of Internet users), the mobilephone will most likely put the power in the users’ hands. Mobilephone users will be able to connect to and reach anyone almost anywhere. Which means, the mobile technology will be able to breakthrough all political, economic, social and cultural barriers to bridge the digital divide that exists with telephones (landlines), computers and the Internet.

To this end, the GSM Association (the global association of GSM mobile technology companies and brands, based in London) is doing everything possible to support the bridging of the digital divide. According to the GSM Association (and I quote from their website),

“The GSMA believe that the promotion of open, competitive market conditions is fundamental to extending the benefits of mobile communications to all, from the most developed Western European markets to remote areas in developing countries. Mobile has a critical role to play in improving health, wealth, education and social mobility.

To ensure that the benefits of mobile communications are understood and available to everyone who needs them, the GSM Association has developed an integrated programme aimed at better identifying the value of mobile communications. As part of its wider ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ initiative, the GSMA is working to tackle the cost barriers to ownership and address the economic and social benefits related to mobile.

Its work in this area falls into two categories:

The Total Cost of Ownership and Economic & Social Benefits. The ‘Total Cost of Ownership’ takes a 360 degree view of the mobile communications environment. This includes examining how regulation and tax affect the take-up of mobile phones. It also includes work on delivering a lower cost handset to consumers; which is part of the Emerging market handset programme.

The second area in which the GSMA seeks to address the digital divide is in the area of the ‘Economic and Social Benefits of Mobile Communications’. This looks at the role of micro-payments, the function that a mobile phone plays in facilitating disaster relief, relevant studies and the GSMA’s Development Fund.”

In fact, the GSMA’s commitment goes as far as instituting a ‘Bridging the Digital Divide’ category in the annual Global Mobile Awards which recognises achievements in the global GSM mobile technology field.

[Citation: GSM Association website, Bridging the Digital Divide. Global Mobile Awards website, Category 5, Bridging the Digital Divide.]

11 February 2008

The ubiquitous mobilephone

We may switch off our TVs and our PCs, or leave them at home or at the workplace when we are done with them, but we can’t leave behind or live without our mobilephones. The mobilephone has become a part of our lives – an electronic appendage that stays with us 24/7.

A rough count says there are 2 billion mobilephone users in the world (that’s almost 1 out of every 3 persons); and, as far as handsets go, 1 billion mobilephones were sold globally last year. That’s a huge market! No wonder marketers view the mobilephone as a great advertising platform – a ‘third screen’, after TV and the PC.

In India, mobilephone users are doubling every 2 years, with an estimated 225 million users today. So, when people say that digital advertising/marketing in India will be built around the mobilephone, I quite agree. After all, the mobilephone is the most ubiquitous and personal of all devices we use today, offering a unique 1-to-1 platform for communication.

Then, why aren’t marketers jumping onto the mobilephone advertising/marketing bandwagon?

They are, but slowly. The biggest obstacle facing marketers is availability of technology – which, of course, keeps improving in leaps and bounds. Technology offers better handsets, faster networks, multimedia options, and targeting software to send customised promotional messages to mobilephone users.

Today, mobilephone users can not only receive broadcasted text messages from advertisers, but also location-based information/offers using GPS, and customised messages based on user demographics through mobile-Internet-brand partnerships. In this context, mobilephone users with Internet access are better advertising targets than the rest of the crowd.

However, the fear of turning off and losing customers, if users view mobile advertising messages as spam, has cautioned mobile service providers (more than brand marketers) from rushing into offering mobile advertising. After all, they have a lot more to lose than brand marketers who advertise on TV or on the Internet.

08 February 2008


Going by the phenomenal increase in mobilephone usage in India, where users have doubled in the past 2 years to reach 225 million in number, Netcore CEO Rajesh Jain’s prediction of ‘the future of digital marketing in India being built around mobilephones’ may eventually come true. What may make this possible is the nature of the mobilephone technology.

To begin with, mobilephones do not require their users to be educated or literate. Learning a few simple operations is enough to use a mobilephone. Next, mobilephones do not depend on existing infrastructure such as electricity or wired lines or using the local transport system to travel to a destination. Availability of a mobile network and a ‘charged’ battery is enough.

Furthermore, mobilephones do not limit their users from being rooted to a spot as in basic telephones. On the contrary, mobilephones allow their users the freedom to make and receive calls in the privacy and convenience of their life situations. Very simply, unlike other technologies like computers and the Internet, mobilephones are easy to use.

For emerging economies like India and China, whose progress is stymied by lack of adequate education and infrastructure, this is a great boon. In fact, more than India, the mobilephone technology has really taken over China, which boasts of a user-base of 500 million people – more than double of India’s mobile population and, apparently, equivalent of the whole of Europe’s mobile users.

In India and China, mobilephones seem to have leapfrogged into prominence over better-known technologies such as computers and the Internet. Their widespread use, and growth, seems to have gone so far as to upset a few business predictions and surprise the whole world.

The latest (7 February 2008) edition of The Economist magazine discusses this very phenomenon. Two stories in the magazine are worth reading: The limits of leapfrogging which talks about the absorption and diffusion of new technologies like the mobilephone; and Of internet caf├ęs and power cuts which explains why emerging economies like India and China are better at adopting new technologies than at putting them into widespread use. And, between the two, what this phenomenon may signify in the future.

07 February 2008

Digital marketing: still to evolve in India

Somehow digital marketing hasn’t taken off in India. At least, not in the way one would have expected, considering India’s penchant for the Internet.

According to internetworldstats.com, India had 42 million Internet users in 2007, with a penetration of 3.7%. International Telecommunication Union (ITU), however, pegs the figure much higher at 60 million users as of September 2007, with a 5.3% penetration. Even then, compared to the United States with over 215 million Internet users and a penetration of 71.4% (Nielsen//NetRatings, November 2007), India has a lot to catch up.

And, as far as digital business goes, it’s a dismal picture. According to a recent Exchange4Media article by Rosy Ngaihte covering the India Digital Summit 2008, “spends on Internet advertising in India is just 1.8 per cent.”

What seems to be the problem with digital India? Plenty, if we go by what the market leaders have to say.

The same Exchange4Media article quotes V Ramani, Co-founder and Vice-Chairman of Connecturf, a conglomerate of digital marketing companies in India: “The audience for digital advertising is fragmented and there is low penetration among women, teenagers, language consumers. Also, there is limited geo-targeting and there is no trade exposure.”

Havas Media’s Vishnu Mohan, CEO-APAC, is more hopeful: “There is enormous growth in digital marketing, although it is still in the process of evolution. Digital media as a medium will be a substitution for TV ad sales, but traditional media will continue along side. To enable digital access, the facts and processes need to be addressed better… and along with that clients also need to be educated.”

There’s more. With low ownership of PCs and poor Internet connectivity, digital marketing in India may need to rely on other digital media solutions to prosper. For instance, the mobilephone market may offer a solution for growth. According to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), India had over 225 million mobile subscribers as of November 2007, or almost a 20% penetration.

[According to the US Federal Communications Commission, as of June 2007, the United States had 243 million subscribers, a 81% penetration.]

Perhaps, that’s where India’s digital marketing business will come from – from mobilephone users (and not the Internet). Almost 2 years ago, I remember Rajesh Jain, CEO Netcore, saying that the future of digital marketing in India will be built around the mobilephone (or words to that effect).

Maybe Mr Jain was right. Maybe it’s too early to tell. Whatever the case may be, as we see it now, India’s digital marketing business is still to evolve into an industry of some reckoning.

[Citation: India Digital Summit 2008: ‘Digital media as a medium will be a substitution for TV ad sales’, article by Rosy Ngaihte, Exchange4Media, 11 January 2008.]

04 February 2008

$24 billion and growing

Over the past five years, advertising on the Internet and other digital media (video games, mobilephones) has increased substantially. Growth of digital advertising has far out-distanced traditional media (print, TV, outdoor), and continues to accelerate as I write this blog post. According to eMarketer, online ad spend in the United States alone is expected to be $24 billion this year, growing at 22%.

[According to a GroupM forecast, total ad spend in the United States is expected to grow by 3.7% to reach $169 billion this year.]

The rate of growth in digital advertising is not the only thing that is changing. More importantly, what is changing is the way advertising and marketing campaigns are being – and going to be – executed. Delivering personalised marketing messages with accuracy far superior to traditional mass media advertising – made possible by a partnership between creative and technology.

To this end, the Google-Publicis partnership (see my previous post) is no surprise. It has evolved over the past few years, setting its first milestone last year when Publicis bought over Digitas, the largest independent digital ad agency in the world. Soon after, Microsoft bought over aQuantive, the second-largest digital ad agency.

The idea behind such moves is, no doubt, to occupy a dominant position in the digital advertising/media space. And, to me, the strategy seems a cut above traditional ad agencies setting up their own digital advertising divisions. I bet we are likely to see many more collaborations, mergers and acquisitions of the Google-Publicis kind in the days to come.

The good news is that the digital advertising business is large enough, and has the potential, to accommodate everyone. Google-Publicis may now have a ‘first mover’ advantage, but others will soon follow with their own strategies.