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Best Practices in Delivering Mobile Content

 authored by UIEvolution Staff

The Content Opportunity for the Service Provider
 
Service providers have an unprecedented opportunity in growing wireless data and content revenues today. The industry expects to deliver a revenue stream of $31B in 2008, with a healthy CAGR of 18%, from content and entertainment services. 
 
Some of the factors that have driven this growth include the changing profile of the typical mass-market consumer as well as the nature of the content purchased. The mass market for content has evolved from low-value content (SMS and ringtones) to high-value services (such as email and search, productivity and entertainment tools). The demographic segment has also evolved from early adopters who are teens or young adults to a more mature adults with high disposable incomes, raising the potential for higher ARPU (Average revenue per user) from content.
 
Recent trends in technology also offer significant opportunities to monetize content. Convergence is happening at an unprecedented pace. Service providers have new ways of reaching their users and offering them a unified broadband and mobile user experience. As a result of alliances between wireless and fixed line carriers as well as cable and broadband providers, end users are offered bundled service offerings of voice and data. These expanded service offerings provide wireless service providers with new channels and new markets to reach end users and merchandize content. 
 
Business Landscape for Mobile Content
 
Despite the promise of increasing wireless data ARPU and a larger converged addressable market, service providers face a significant battle for ownership of the end user mindshare as a source for content.
 
Knowing the end user
 
The business model and ecosystem of mobile content is a shifting landscape. About 50% of all content in 2007 was purchased through off-deck channels. As end users search for and purchase more content through off-deck portals (such as Yahoo! and Google), service providers face the possibility of being perceived as a pure network provider by the end user. This may lead to service providers getting a smaller share of the potential revenues from content merchandising, as well as lesser knowledge about the end user’s profile and interests. This also has wider implications on the service provider’s ability to provide targeted marketing to their user base. 
 
Slowing revenues from content
 
Adoption of wireless data services has projected to grow to $43 billion in 2011, and is expected to slow dramatically thereafter. This is due to the fact that the list of data services is expected to be finite, with key areas being SMS, IM, MMS, Mobile TV, games and data card access. Service providers are increasingly offering flat-rate data plans, and this combined with poor user experience will lower the growth rate of overall content revenues.
 
Delivering addictive user experiences
 
The current deployment model for wireless data services is based on WAP. User adoption of WAP has been lukewarm; presumably due to the poor user experience delivered by WAP, caused by network latency, non-intuitive user interface and navigation combined with limited personalization. These factors make content discovery a challenge, by discouraging intuitive user navigation and impulsive purchases of content.
 
 
Addressing the Challenge
 
Service providers can address these challenges in multiple ways. In the short term, service providers need to focus on enhancing the ways in which end users experience and interact with their service provider – to deliver integrated multimedia services that inform, entertain or add value to the end user – in addition to wireless call and message management. In the longer term, service providers need to look ahead to platforms that offer flexibility and extensibility to support new business models as well as convergent devices.
 
·         Delivering rich brand experiences: The end to end experience of the service provider brand can be implemented through a variety of applications that deliver content. Applications such as customizable portals and storefronts that offer consistent navigation and a rich, interactive user experience encourage user adoption, exploration as well as purchase of content. Branded experiences that can be personalized by the user can provide unique reasons to choose the service provider portal and environment over web portals such as Google or Y!.
 
·         Flexible business model: On the business side, the service provider needs to have the flexibility to offer rich applications that can be made available across a wide range of devices. The service provider can deliver them on a flexible business model: either charge for premium applications or deliver them in an ad-subsidized model that drives adoption of wireless data service plans. In addition, the service provider needs to be able to personalize the application so that it appears unique to the user and becomes an addictive experience.
 
·         Dynamic Services Platform: On the technology front, the architecture of the multimedia services platform should be structured to enable on-time application delivery, rich media features, real-time data delivery and widest range of device and technologies.
 
·         Efficient Network Delivery: A key aspect of this solution rests on the service provider’s ability to manage data delivery costs, to ensure that growing ARPU and wireless content revenues are accompanied by healthy margins for the overall content business. The application delivery platform needs to provide a flexible architecture that can deliver just in time data in an efficient manner that lowers ongoing operational costs as well as provides a rich user experience.
 
The Opportunity
 
Service providers have the opportunity to launch several initiatives that can increase revenues - through easier content discovery, delivering customized applications and creating addictive brand experiences; while lowering network delivery costs through innovative application architecture and delivery.
 
·         Drive Content Discovery
Rich storefront and media portal client applications can offer more intuitive user experiences, improving upon the current WAP-based solutions. Service providers can wrap a variety of applications (portals, idle screen, mobile marketing as well as media players) with a common look-and-feel to deliver a unified, connected experience of the service provider brand. Creating applications that are easier to navigate and personalize will drive easier discovery of content; driving a unified paradigm across all of the service provider applications (similar to the approach used by Amazon.com?) will facilitate navigation and easier discovery.
 
  • Addictive End user Applications
The ability to set and manage user preferences is an important driver in delivering addictive user experiences. Application data such as favorite entertainers, news topics, weather can be combined with dynamic data about the user location to provide context-specific applications and user engagement.
 
  • Increase Content Margin
As service adoption increases, so does the cost of network data delivery, and efficient approaches to delivering data become very important to preserve and increase margins of the data services business. Aside from over the air (OTA) downloads, applications need to support offline services. Application clients that can cache information locally and support an intelligent client-server architecture that optimizes data delivery.
 
  • Plan for convergence
Service providers need to deliver a consistent, branded user experience across converged service offerings as well as protect the R&D investments made in the wireless domain. To reach both goals successfully, they can ensure that the chosen multimedia applications run on a platform that can be easily ported, either to new technology domains or to new devices, as they are launched in the market.
 
Solution Approach
 
Service providers can utilize several service frameworks to deliver rich, branded experiences that increase content revenues.
Some examples:
  • Local storefronts that are customized to user preferences
  • Interactive applications delivering data and entertainment services, that can be customized to user preferences
  • Active idle screen applications with integrated, context-sensitive mobile advertising 
  • On-device media player clients that are integrated with media storefront provided by the service provider, which deliver playlists and choices tailored to the end user’s preferences.
 
Rich storefront and media portal client applications can offer more intuitive user experiences, improving upon the current WAP-based solutions. Service providers can wrap a variety of applications (portals, idle screen, mobile marketing as well as on-device media players and storefronts) with a common look-and-feel to deliver a unified, connected experience of the service provider brand.
 
  • Plan for convergence: Ensure that multimedia applications run on a platform that can be easily ported, either to new technology domains or to new devices, as they are launched in the market
 
 
 Case Study: Elements of a Successful Multimedia Application Service
 
This section lays out the various aspects of delivering a rich, multimedia application such as a sports application that has the following elements:
  • Rich media (audio and video clips, inter-linked with text and images)
  • Networked services (continuously interacts with a server that delivers real time updates)
  • Personalization (user can customize with their favorite teams, players, and then the application will push relevant data such as news, videos, etc. to the user)
  • Interactive (live data updates, animated menus and application features)
  • Downloaded on demand (delivered over-the-air)
 
The success story in the following section highlights the fact that an application can deliver a rich, multimedia user experience in a bandwidth-constrained mobile network, while minimizing the impact of external constraints as data delivery costs, network latency and user expectations of application responsiveness.
 
The application is connected to a web server hosted by premium sports content provider, with a rich client on the device. The application provides news, data, audio and video clips, accessible through an interactive menu that can be customized by the service provider and personalized by the user.
 
Asynchronous Event Management: Real Time Data Delivery
 
Real time data feeds as well as the ability to customize preferences provide an immersive, personal feel to the application. As the number of application users grows, the additional network costs to deliver the data as and when it happens (for example, sports scores during a live game broadcast) can increase significantly. Therefore, the chosen application delivery platform will be able to “push” or “pull” data cost-efficiently - either by the user or the network. 
 
Platform Flexibility: Client Server Architecture
 
Networked applications are connected to a web server, with real-time data that is continuously updated. Application can be updated with additional features any time the user is connected to the network. For example, the ability to play videos can be added to the application with a software update delivered over-the-air (OTA). The update mechanism can also be used to deliver mobile advertisements within the application, allowing service providers to offer content that is free to the end user and monetized by advertising instead.
 
Rich Mobile Application Features: Animation Menus & Graphic Heavy Objects
 
Animated menus and graphic heavy object features gives applications more substance than a text-based page.   For instance, each menu item includes an action executed when an image is selected that tells the application what to do next. Examples of actions include loading more information or playing an animation.
 
In the case of the premium sports application, full color photos in news pages, team banners and logos in team pages, drive charts, shot charts and pitching match ups in a live broadcast are all examples of some of the extra display features provided for the rich application that the user cannot possibly get from WAP.
 
Rich media experiences include scrolling tickers that are updated constantly, audio / video controls that allow applications to handle and display both streaming media and download/play audio or videos. The application features enable end users to play, pause, fast forward, rewind, restart and zoom (as supported by the handset).
 
Lightweight Client: Extends Application Reach
 
The addressable market for rich multimedia services grows with the range of supported devices. The application will determine the available features of various device types (high or low end) and dynamically adapt itself to optimize the user experience. 
 
Design to the Mobile User Context
 
Mobile handset design is a complex area, and ensuring that the application met the needs of the demanding sports fan was a complex challenge. In addition, delivering a rich service provider-brand experience required focus on the usability and style relevant to the mobile user, along with expertise in small-screen UI design and a deep understanding of the user’s expectations. For example, implementing ticker functionality (that closely follows the brand experience on TV) ensured that the application conveyed a similar look-and-feel on the mobile.
 
In Summary
 
Delivering compelling multimedia services are key to growth in ARPU and wider adoption of wireless data services over the next 3-5 years for service providers. Multimedia applications can be delivered to the widest range of mobile users today, and seamlessly extended to converged network users tomorrow, as long as the underlying platform supports a diverse set of multimedia applications that can be supported across multiple devices and networks.
 
Strategies that are poised to be a long term success for service providers to grow revenues from mobile content need to incorporate some key elements: efficient, real-time data delivery, OTA application management, ability for application personalization and designs optimized for the mobile user context.
 
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