Last year, 276.6 million Americans signed up with mobile-phone carriers, according to CTIA-The Wireless Association, a number that continues to climb.
B-to-b media companies have responded to this trend by distributing more of their content via BlackBerrys, iPhones and other mobile devices, which in turn has created new responsibilities for production departments.
“We're at the point now that, when consumers are going to a trade show or getting a magazine, they are expecting information on their mobiles as well—rather than being pleasantly surprised when it is provided. It's moving from being a novelty to being an expectation,” said Paul Reddick, CEO of Handmark Inc., a mobile media company that has helped Forbes Inc., Penton Media and Thomson Reuters with mobile applications.
Penton Media's Supermarket News, for instance, has developed an app that delivers news updates on food retailing to mobile devices throughout the day. Christina Veiders, the title's managing editor, said prepping content for mobile distribution has only a minimal effect on her production department because it is automatically part of the process of posting breaking news online. “We just added one step, which is an image upload to our content management system,” she said.
FT.com, the website for the Financial Times, takes a similar approach to handling mobile content. FT.com delivers basically the same content to mobile devices and its website, said Stephen Pinches, lead product development manager of FT.com.
“We minimize any additional effort in our production that would be required for mobile channels,” he said. “As the channel continues to evolve, the concept of "made for mobile' content will seem very dated.”
Pinches also said that the trend toward using emerging Web standard technologies such as HTML5 and CSS3 for mobile content helps accommodate the variety of mobile devices out there. “These technologies should be at the core of any publisher's mobile strategy as they allow you to build a single platform to service multiple devices,” he said.
FT.com has also put some extra work into enabling all its home-page videos to appear on iPads and iPhones, which don't accommodate Flash technology, the technology behind many online videos. FT.com employs HTML5 to enable online videos to be viewed on iPads. Additionally, FT.com's mobile content has a user interface that accommodates touch screens, such as those on Apple devices.
“Many websites I visit have navigations that simply cannot be used on touch screens, which can be very frustrating,” he said.
Pinches said he recommends publishers be skeptical of products that ask for specific work flows for different mobile devices. “Editorial work flow should be focused on curating a core set of editorial assets, which can then be repurposed and optimized for multiple uses,” he said. “Journalistic resources are very precious, and so keeping them focused on the business of newsgathering and analysis, rather than re-tweaking content for the latest phone technology, is paramount.”
Handmark's Reddick said that, when a company first gets involved with mobile, it will quickly realize that the market is fragmented among many different types of mobile devices. “The most important thing is to listen to your audience's needs; they'll tell you what they want in mobile content,” he said.
Reddick recommends that publishers have a plan for monetization from the get-go. “This isn't the kind of thing where you should be saying, "Let's just build this because we need to have it, and then we'll figure it out,' “ he said. “It sounds basic but not everybody follows it: Have a plan. Can you sell it for a premium? Will it be ad-based?”
Some design elements that Reddick has found to be successful in the apps his company has created for conferences are Twitter feeds that carry conference announcements. Past users of his product have also found it useful when the conference's calendar can be downloaded right into their own calendar. &BULL;