"By spend, they're the largest marketers today, with everything from ringtones to wallpaper to applications. They're doing it because mobile is closer to purchase," Mr. Hadl said. His company helps brands such as Procter & Gamble Co., American Express Co. and Lionsgate Films activate mobile campaigns, but he has yet to see any of the mass-reach opportunities that advertisers clamor for. "At the end of the day, marketers, at their core, buy access to audiences."
Seeking larger share of ad dollars
If media forecasters such as eMarketer are to be believed, mobile-marketing outlays could reach $16 billion by 2011. But thus far, the still-nascent category has yet to capture a significant share of ad dollars for mobile campaigns beyond the occasional banner ad or text-based promotion. Diana Pouilot, director-mobile advertising at Google, likened the hype around mobile spending to the early buzz around the internet before any significant shift in media budgets occurred. "Maybe this is the year of that inflection point," she said.
Indeed, 2007 saw some significant growth in mobile-content consumption. Mark Donovan, senior analyst at M: Metrics, said the number of Americans who watched mobile video grew 60% between January and November 2007, with movie trailers, music videos, sports, news, comedy and weather among the most popular content categories.
Yet several panelists argued that consumer perception of mobile's capabilities was shaped most significantly by last summer's Apple iPhone launch campaign, which showcased the interactive and video features of the device. Consequently, the number of mobile video subscribers increased considerably from the second to third quarter, growing from 11.8 million to 13.2 million, according to Nielsen Mobile.
And speaking of the iPhone, Ms. Pouilot waved off recurring rumors that Google has been developing its own so-called gPhone, instead turning attention to what the company hopes will be the next wave of mobile marketing, Android. The search-based operating system, set to launch in "the second half of 2008," Ms. Pouilot said, is a partnership with the Open Handset Alliance and designed to make local search more streamlined for consumers and easier to buy advertising for a marketer.
No need for a gPhone
Android already has more than 20 worldwide partnerships in place with various mobile and technology companies, including T-Mobile, HTC, Qualcomm, Motorola, Samsung and Sprint Nextel. "Our vision of Android is if you, as a consumer, want to access these applications, you can. We don't think there's a need for a gPhone. [The existing developers] are going to innovate the platform on their own," she said.
The interest in video-enabled mobile search is growing as well. Ms. Pouilot pointed to recent data that showed a spike led by the iPhone around Christmas time. "We hope Android will give people the same tool to unlock that option."
In the meantime, the content providers Mr. Hadl referred to are making strides in building the adoption rates for the cellphone's use as an entertainment device. Intersport, a sports and entertainment company that works on branded integrations with the likes of Pepsi, McDonald's and Geico, has already seen early success from its partnership with the Sprint Exclusive Entertainment network. The deal includes content from Intersport's entertainment-news site, CelebTV.com, which in a matter of months became the most-watched channel on SEE.
As a result, Sprint has seen its video views on SEE increase 300% over this time last year. Yet Charlie Besser, president-CEO of Intersport, said he knew CelebTV had finally made an impression when it moved up to the first page on the SEE content guide last week. It was a positive sign that there's still room for smaller players to make a dent in the competitive yet rapidly changing mobile-entertainment space, but one that was only strengthened by its direct tie-in to the web. "We've scored some early baskets, but it's just the beginning of the game," he said.