Exactly 300 years ago, the inventor of the modern media money-making model was born: Samuel Johnson. An impecunious journalist, Johnson hit on the idea of selling sponsorships to his famous dictionary to support him as he worked on it. Johnson's patrons included both of the groups that underwrite media to this day: people who wanted the work itself (subscribers) and people who wanted the attention of subscribers (advertisers).
For three centuries, that model paid for what we now call media. But every time new media burst on the scene, contemporary observers seem to have difficulty identifying their moneymaking potential because they’re different from reigning media.
For example, take this reflection on television's advertising potential in The New York Times’ May 2, 1946, "Advertising News and Notes" column:
"Unlike radio, with a potential audience for most of the day and far into the night, television's most critical problem is audience saturation point, Samuel H. Cuff, general manager of DuMont Television station WABD, declared yesterday, "because the housewife can't sit in front of a screen all day and discharge housewifely duties at the same time."
I'm sure Samuel Johnson's friends couldn't figure out why anyone would pay money — in advance, no less — just to have people read their names in the pages of a book that hadn't even been written, much less published.
Likewise, mobile TV Detractors dismiss it by pointing to small screens, less-than-optimal video quality and the myriad of video options available via the Web. And those are all potential showstoppers if you insist on seeing mobile TV as television or the Web.
Industry analyst Jeffrey Miller talks about mobile marketing and participation media in this video from the Mobile Marketing Forum.
However antique the notion of the homemaker going about her "housewifely duties," further on, the story offers some not-so-antique insight, "Charles J. Durban, assistant advertising director of the United States Rubber Company, termed television 'the most effective medium that has come along.' Through it, he said, manufacturers can show their products in actual use, a tremendous advantage over other media."
Sixty years later, the demonstration ad, and its close relative the infomercial, remains a TV staple because it takes advantage of the medium's unique characteristics.
So, what's the comparable quality for mobile TV? It's mobile TV's two-way channel that can tell advertisers definitively who's watching, and where and when they watch. A new Gartner Group report, "Mobile Advertising Grows Quietly," says that the growing pervasiveness of GPS technology is boosting location-based targeting. Because it requires no personal information, consumers are more likely to accept location-based ads using GPS.
Juniper Research's Windsor Holden predicts that total annual ad spending on mobile services will top $6 billion by 2014. While impressive, it should be pointed out that $6 billion represents just 1.2 percent of total global ad spending.
Just being present on the mobile device appears to pay dividends. The research firm Parks Associates reported in 2008 that traffic to Omni Hotels’ mobile site increased 85 percent in six months, delivering a 25 percent ROI, and that mobile conversion rates far exceed the company’s online Web site. Mobile advertising platform company Admob reinforces that with statistics showing that mobile campaigns significantly outperform online campaigns at least fourfold.
People also watch mobile TV at different times than they do fixed TV — while commuting, traveling, sitting in a waiting room, etc.. The fact that phones are usually near their owners, even times when you're not watching, also can provide opportunities for advertisers.
This offers interesting opportunities for personalized ads. Suppose, for example, on the commute home, our 2009 equivalent of that 1946 homemaker watches Rachel Ray prepare a "dinner in 15 minutes" recipe and stops by the grocery store. That's a perfect place for a maker of the ingredients in Ray's recipe to show the recipe and a shopping list — even better, a map of those ingredients in the store.
"The combined reach and interactivity of a TV-mobile call to action has all the hooks an advertiser wants — action, accountability and allegiance," wrote media analyst Jeffrey R. Miller in Mobile Marketer's "Classic Guide to Mobile Advertising." Miller, principal at JRMill3r.com and former president of market development at interactive TV company Telescope, writes that mobile TV's attractiveness to advertisers includes:
Taking advantage of these opportunities, however, means that mobile TV advertising must get a whole lot smarter than its online cousin. If I'm in the supermarket at 5:45 p.m. considering whether to make dinner or get Chinese takeout, I don't want to see 75 slow-cooker recipes or the aisle map of a supermarket in Santa Clara, UT, instead of Santa Clara, CA. And if I see another Clorox ad on AMC's “Mad Men” on demand, I promise to make dingy white my hallmark and never buy bleach again.