Can new players win big media on mobile?

Gregory Wester · November 13, 2018 · Short URL:

Nextgen technologies shifting the competitive landscape

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Our phones are omnipresent. Our data plans are unlimited. This leads us to increasingly fill our down time with mobile media, which is much like how we once pulled out newspapers and novels from our bags to fill our down time. What’s more, as of 2017, people under 34 years old are spending as much, or more, time on their phones than watching television (no surprise, really), a trend that will only accelerate with improved networks and devices.

Today, Google and Facebook control the share of mobile time and mobile ad spend, but with mobile media consumption at the cusp of a revolution, these questions arise:

  1. Can media companies create new content experiences that better engage and retain today's consumers and their fickle behavior?
  2. Will the 12-yr-old smartphone experience of apps and homescreens evolve and create new ways of content discovery, creating new winners and losers?

Early indicators appear that the answer to these questions is “Yes”. Publishers are leveraging new UI/UX technologies while some of the most interesting developments are in the space of evolving the phone itself. Their new content UIs and UXs, new forms of content discovery, and indeed, smarter smartphones have the opportunity to shift the competitive landscape.

Smartphone OEMs and the wireless carriers (e.g. Sprint, T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon) all influence new AI and software experiences that wireless subscribers are exposed to, therefore giving them a ton of power over the entire mobile experience. And all of these changes could be what allows publishers, carriers and OEMs to gain a more prominent foothold in the mobile ecosystem.

A key battleground: snackable content

A significant mobile media battleground appears to be in the area of short, casual media consumption.

Not only are consumers active users of mobile, a recent study by Verto Analytics shows that we use it for very short amounts of time. Consumers also have little time to spare and short attention spans. On mobile, that means that a key to winning increasingly means having short, snackable content that can be effortlessly digested and accessed.

These findings are clearly not lost on content companies trying to optimize the content for this audience. TicToc, a new channel for Millennials on Bloomberg, is a leading example of how publishers are evolving to better compete for share of the mobile media future.

On TicToc, Bloomberg averaged roughly 30 seconds of attention on a posted clip, suggesting this was an ideal amount of time for keeping a user’s attention on mobile.

Scott Havens, Global Head of Digital & Media Distribution at Bloomberg Media, comments, “When you use Twitter on your phone and you’re jumping in and out multiple times a day perusing your newsfeed to see what’s going on, often times you’re in an "info-snacking mode" to get a top-level read on what’s happening in the world or with a certain meme or conversation. For TicToc, a key focus has been creating short, self-encapsulated, data-driven, objective news stories that play to that behavior.”

Havens calls these “snackable” content -- quick bursts of succinct information that are also visual.

Casual media consumption = opportunity

These snackable moments are an increasing part of what might be considered “casual media consumption.” Content that’s stumbled upon or discovered, rather than specifically sought out with intent.

In fact, half the time we grab our phones, we have no agenda.

Some 47 percent of the time we use our smartphones, we have no particular intent or app in mind, according to a Phoenix Marketing International study. This means, we’re not tapping Uber for a car, or Maps for directions, or Twitter for news, rather we’re seeking the first thing that strikes our curiosity itch.

The rise of this casual media use of our phones has a lot to do with the rise of unlimited data plans. It’s why we take hundreds of selfies, because the cost to take and store them is practically free. Imagine taking selfies or 10 photos for each pose with your 35mm film camera in the old days? Yeah. You can’t. But unlimited data allows for discovery of content, which isn’t exactly the content you may have otherwise searched out.

Therein lies some upside for those who can apply some predictive analytics to surface up content consumers might like.

“Content discovery is not frictionless right now, but it is a massive opportunity”, said Chris Papaleo, formerly Hearst’s Executive Director of Emerging Tech, “especially thanks to the emergence of voice assistants, like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.” He added, “Content discovery is a really, really critical challenge.”  

The roll of new UIs and UXs

Some see all-new user experiences as the path to winning in media by addressing discovery, casual consumption and engagement. And these UI/UX visions range from the way we handle video, to voice, AR and other new device experiences.

Bloomberg’s Haven suggested, “The other big takeaway with Twitter, and we’re not unique in this, is many people don’t have the sound on for their social media and so you’ve got to convey visually through text overlays or through bullet points and graphics. You’ve got to assume that they’re not going to listen to any of the audio, so make sure you get to the point quickly in a very readable way on a very small screen sometimes.”

Hearst’s Papaleo sees the increasing importance of voice. He called voice, “a more convenient way to ask for information, or to initiate an experience.

“Without a screen to explore or browse, you’re only able to surface targeted info to targeted requests, and that itself is a big opportunity, even though limited relative to unintentional consumption,” said Papaleo. “We’re early in defining what content discovery looks like on voice. But voice platforms are getting better at responding helpfully to organic user questions.”

Papaleo also sees a time when UI/UXs get richer. “In the future, we see that it’s heads up and hands free and that dynamic will be just as relevant as looking down and hands in use. The difference is that it won’t be the screen on the computer in your hand, but something your eyes see projected in front of you or on any number of surfaces,” he said.

Like many others, I don’t see the device screen going anywhere any time soon, but I see the smartphone screen becoming smarter.

That’s because the smartphone’s UI/UX hasn’t really changed in over a decade.  But we’ve finally entered a new era where device-based intelligence along with all new launcher UI/UXs are going to reshape content discovery.

You see this already with Apple News’ widgets, Google Discover and their minus screen. The next-gen mobile content discovery solutions put content at our fingertips as we transition between mobile activities - like at unlock, when opening a new browser tab, or swiping left/right from the device home screen.  Look for the companies that can influence device functionality – the OEMs, O/S developers, and of course the wireless carriers themselves – to play a big part in the next wave of mobile content discovery.

An OEM and carrier advantage?

If the carriers participated in the definition and rollout of next-generation mobile experience, they might become much more dominant media players, though that won’t happen by merely putting an app on a phone. It will happen by fundamentally changing how the phone works. This is their inherent advantage: large carriers have influence with the smartphone OEMs and carriers have users locked in already, as almost 80 percent of customers stay with their carrier when they get a new phone. The only question is if they will use this advantage and regain their power.

In the first era of mobile content discovery, carriers were big fish, though be it in an ultra small pond. Their unlimited networks really set up and opened the door for today’s device-centric discovery where the phone serves as an agent. Just because you don’t have something in mind when you unlock your phone doesn’t mean the phone couldn’t have something in mind for you.  There’s no doubt the phone will change. It’s just a matter of who will profit from the change.

The carriers have a decision to make, though: do they want to make the content or just help their subscribers discover and consume it?

Carriers certainly have the capital and some ability to be content producers if they choose to be, said Bloomberg’s Havens. While some of them say they are shifting away from that role, Havens doesn’t believe that’s really the case for most of them.

“Verizon - from what they have said - may not want to invest more deeply in mobile content - and it did shut down Go90.  It seems they are positioning themselves to be the leading telecom company versus a next-gen content producer,” said Havens. “Yet they own a $10 billion media group in Oath and they’re now launching Yahoo Finance Television, so it's not clear which path they might take. Contrast that with AT&T, who at this point, is very clearly trying to verticalize their business - own the full supply chain from content production to monetization to global distribution.”

“But it's not easy.  There are many examples of non-media companies attempting to build out media or content capabilities, but few examples of folks who have done this really successfully,” he added. “With the deployment of 5G networks, however, carriers have an advantage by creating new experiences that don’t currently exist and aren’t even imagined today.  I would think a more successful path for both the carriers, and the device manufacturers, would be to focus more on user experience and utility - and adopting new technologies such as augmented reality and voice to text - and not a heavy focus on producing content. Content - arguably more ably produced by third parties - can and will be a component of these new experiences.”

Hearst’s Papaleo agrees, saying: “carriers can provide an unparalleled experience to their users once they deploy 5G networks”

But are carriers late to the party? If carriers want to own mobile media, the window of opportunity is going to start closing because of the intense competition to own this space. That includes Samsung and Apple, which are both working on it. On Android, Google installs have now set the standard for how the minus one screen is supposed to work, all the carriers get is a little tab in it.

If you were to look at the installed base of phones, this next generation of native device experiences is really nowhere right now. They’re dillydallying but someone is going to go for it,  and once they have the carriers are going to have to claw their way back.

A hidden bonus of next-gen device UI/UX recommendations

One quite interesting impact of carriers and OEMs more aggressively pursuing new device-based content recommendation would be recreating the front doors to the internet.

A generation ago, that front door was the AOL homepage (how many of you are now hearing the classic dial-up sounds in your head? That brings back some great memories!) that went away with the proliferation of mobile and apps. What also went away at the same time was “the single place” content and advertisers really wanted to be.  Even though Reddit likes to call itself “the front page of the internet,” let’s be honest here: there is no longer one thing we all see when we first open our phones. The experience is too personalized and too scattered.

But what happens if/when the likes of AT&T and Verizon, Samsung and LG begin to use native device experiences to serve their subscribers/users personalized content gateways? If users started there, they could own that front door once again. Then they’d truly become next-generation media players because these small number of major players would be directing what users see and when.

There’s a ton of value to being first, and not just when it comes to content; the same rules apply to advertising, where there’s a big advantage to be the first one users see, before “user fatigue” sets in and they stop paying attention, said Meagan Ralston, Manager of Strategic Partnerships at Twitter.

“When users are in session you want to be able to be the first ad in that session to that user, when they are most likely to give you that attention,” she said, explaining that in a game-like experience, users are more likely to view an ad to get additional points the first time they see it, as opposed to later in the game, even if the user had made a lot of progress.  

Because of the short attention spans of users, advertisers would willingly pay more to be the first ad that users see.

“They can pay to be first, and there’s ways to establish that within a publisher’s waterfall. The waterfall essentially represents the priority of that impression to the user. So, a lot of times you can cut a deal directly with the publisher and say that I am willing to pay a premium for the first opportunity to the first time you see a user when they’re on their app and you can establish a private marketplace to have that priority access,” said Ralston.

Indeed, brands still want the first page of the newspaper, the first ad after halftime during the Super Bowl, or the first result in Google Search. Brands probably would jump at the opportunity to be the first things seen in mobile displays.  


Device-centric content discovery brings this opportunity of a content gateway back. And it’s  quite valuable. We’ve worked with the research firm Phoenix Marketing International to analyze monetization of referral traffic from Device-centric “Front Door” UI/UX compared to mobile web and social traffic. Phoenix found that Device-centric “Front Door” discovery actually delivered results 2-5x better downstream monetization than web- or social-content discovery.

With opportunities like this, it’s hard to see carriers and OEMs not wanting to recreate this front-door experience, especially given their position. For publishers, it’s obvious they’re staying relevant by understanding and perfecting the content that is in demand and knowing the new doorways to discovery. They may not be as dominant as the big tech apps today, but they certainly know what needs to be considered to rise in the ranks.

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Gregory Wester

Chief Marketing Officer, Mobile Posse

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Mobile Posse turns telecom companies into mobile media leaders through its next-gen mobile content discovery platform, Firstly Mobile™.

The Firstly Mobile Platform creates a better smartphone experience by proactively presenting curated content, so that subscribers don’t  have to wait to find content they enjoy.

With billions of frictionless mobile content experiences delivered each month, Firstly Mobile drives greater consumer engagement and significantly boosts advertising revenues for carriers and OEMs. And it presents a proven and brand-safe mobile media opportunity for advertisers. Mobile Posse, the pioneer of frictionless mobile media solutions, is based in Arlington, VA. The company’s posse of trailblazers is passionate about making the smartphone even smarter. Every day.


Gregory Wester

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Chief Marketing Officer, Mobile Posse