Willingness to experiment is key to future mobile success


I recently attended the Changing Media Summit in London at the office of the Guardian Media Group.

There were presentations from many walks of life, from connected TV to mobile, from Google to AOL/Huffington Post, from Foursquare to BBC. But what came out were a number of perhaps unsurprising conclusions. In the brave new digital world, there is no panacea, no cover-all solution for media in turning traditional/past dollars into more than digital pennies at present for many.

We are in an experimental period where we all need to try new formulas and methodologies to see what works best for our companies.

Paradoxes abounded at the summit. Paul Hayes, commercial managing director for News International (The Times/Sunday Times, News of the World, and The Sun), said that he didn’t believe in the Metro “free” approach. (It would be interesting to hear what they have to say about that.)

He also said that The Guardian charging £3.99 per six months for its iPhone app is too cheap. “A penny a day ... surely the Guardian is worth more than that?” (Obviously, The Guardian has its own reasons for its pricing model and it works for them; but equally, maybe Hayes is right?)

But let’s bear in mind, what’s right for The Times in London may not be right for, say, The Times in India ... or another newspaper in London for that matter. We have to find models that work specifically for ourselves, and that takes time, money and tons of energy.

Hayes went on to say “People will pay for good stuff ... and finding new ways to monetise is the way forward” (such as The Sun's Bingo and The Telegraph’s fantasy game “Dream Team”). And when asked about News International’s paywall, he quipped, “Why not? Supermarkets have a paywall. They charge for content ... food!” Indeed!

It’s about finding how to charge and what “it” is that our specific audiences will pay for. In other words, what is the “it”? Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger posed a question at the start of the summit. He said it was “great” that The Times in London and the New York Times were trialling different models. “What they need, though, is more transparency about how well or not they are doing.” He partly answered Hayes’ comment regarding charging by saying that The Guardian doesn’t see need at this point for charging on the browser but will look at how The New York Times works out ... and that the Guardian will charge for its new iPad app.

Again, horses for courses.

I also thought it was amusing to hear Arianna Huffington, editor in chief of The Huffington Post, say that she didn’t believe that we can charge for general news and information. Instead, she said, “you need specific content ... like weird porn!” Indeed again!

Thanks for an entertaining conversation, Arianna. You made us laugh, as well as sit up and notice, as you revealed plans for a U.K. edition this summer, with more countries to follow. I won’t tell you what she said about (not) launching in Canada!

Anyhow, back to what “it” is. And the payment mechanism for “it” is just as important. Madhav Chinnappa, strategic partner development manager for Google News, said there is a difference between what publishers want (create once, sell it anywhere) and what consumers want (buy once, access anywhere). He referred to Google’s new OnePass, which he claims starts to focus more on the consumer experience.

Adam Crozier, CEO of the United Kingdom’s oldest and most established commercial television network, ITV, pondered how we measure all the new platforms, who owns the data, how do we exploit it, and how do we ultimately monetise it all? He said there is a definite need to develop richer, deeper experiences with audiences using new platforms like tablets, mobiles, and so on.

The fact remains, though, that there is no one answer that suits all.

Stevie Spring, CEO of Future Publishing, debated that “distortions” are not good. “No one wants crap even if free. How much do people value diffused — i.e. non tangible — versions of our products?” Therefore, is there such thing as freemium (i.e. lite or free apps to entice you in and then try to up-sell you to a paid version)?

“People think that their broadband payment is their library card to all content,” she said. How true! But then look at the whole mobile gaming world, where there is a culture of freemium. And it’s an area that will continue to grow. Just look at Angry Birds, which is rooted in lite/paid versions: it’s in play around the world for the equivalent of 125 years of game play each day!

But again, horses for courses!

What we should do though, in this sometimes unclear and confusing new (mobile) world, is listen to what Google says are the five factors driving growth in mobile net use:

  • Computing power.
  • Clever devices.
  • Increasing connectivity (5 billion mobile connections worldwide).
  • Decreasing costs.
  • The cloud (gives your phone infinite power from cloud servers constantly).

All this should make you encouraged to take some risks, experiment, find out what will work for you. Don’t be scared of it all. But don’t follow the herd either. What will work for you may not work elsewhere. But do get involved. Speak to a mobile expert. Google also says, “If you don’t have a mobile strategy, you don’t have a future strategy!”

And as Paul Hayes said, “It’s an exciting time to be in media. But if you don’t feel that, get out!”

In a rapidly changing world where we see Twitter seemingly/suddenly being 5 years old, Facebook having 500 million accounts, Murdoch’s The Daily iPad newspaper launching, the iPad 2 in stores, and so on, we need to be flexible and more willing than ever to change rapidly.

As they say, lead, follow … or get out of the way!

I'm off to the Apple store to get my iPad 2.

By continuing to browse or by clicking ‘I ACCEPT,’ you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.