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The MDA’s “Monetising the mobile internet” – a day of insights

London’s Royal Statistical Society hosted the MDA event, “Monetising the mobile internet in tough times” on Monday 8th June, sponsored by the DCKTN. I’ve tried to illustrate the key highlights here, but please feel free to correct me if I’ve misrepresented anyone or anything.

This was originally posted over at my MDA blog, and all presentations are now available for members to download.

First up, Terence Eden, Vodafone’s Product Manager for portals explained that data revenues are now worth £3billion to Vodafone: the same amount as SMS in 2006. In an informative presentation delivered in his own inimitable style, Terence stressed the need to consider data pricing and warnings to ensure transparent user experience.

His other points included the need for perspective when considering mobile internet studies based on smartphone statistics. A nine year old device from the manufacturer, Sharp, is still being actively used by thousands of people in the UK. The presentation can be seen on Terence’s own personal blog.

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Thomas Green, from Mobile data aggregator, MX Telecom then explained the different mechanics of mobile payment which are available today. Outlining the relative virtues and merits of premium rate SMS messaging, ad hoc mobile network arrangements, Payforit and Web Payforit, Tom concluded that there is no single prescriptive mobile payment method. It depends on the service you intend to run.

Issues of uncertainty around PSMS pricing for services advertised on the web can be solved by regaining billing control and applying the mobile web-based Payforit experience to the traditional PC.

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Technology can create and destroy capital. That was the introductory message from Alex Meisl the CEO of digital mobile marketing agency, Sponge. He illustrated how mobile data remains skewed towards business users despite the upward trend in ownership, and highlighted the increasing younger demographic, with the statistic that over 50% of 9 year olds now have mobile phones.

Alex walked us through a case study involving Autotrader. Their market leadership drives profitability, which allows them to dominate all effective channels to market, including mobile.

When constructing sites, we should remember mobile is a needs-based technology and too many choices are as bad as too few, if not worse. There is a limit to how much you can neatly display on the small screen. The Autotrader site yielded 500,000 user impressions and demonstrated that well streamlined technology should be a single additive of a wider campaign. He left us, just as he arrived, with a pertinent message: scaled mobile investment will help maximise return on investment.

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The UK’s phone paid services regulator, PhonepayPlus was next to the lectern. Paul Whiteing outlined the regulator’s remit of providing effective, proportionate rules, without being industry cheerleaders or prescriptive micro managers.

As much as any mobile internet stakeholder, PhonepayPlus wants drive consumer understanding of how the mobile internet works and encourage services to be up front about their operation and their pricing. This is why 400 businesses are given free service advice every month.

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A panel of mobile network operators took to the stage next, each explaining their own perspective of Payforit and mobile internet payment mechanisms before fielding questions from the floor.

The resounding message from this session was an the need to sustain unified collaboration around mobile payment and particularly the Payforit brand, in order to drive further adoption, trust and use by regular consumers with regular mobile devices.

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After lunch, Richard Warren of First Partner gave his take on the mobile marketing and advertising space. His projection that UK mobile advertising revenues would total over 220 milion Euros by 2013 was supplemented by case studies of best practice. These included the ‘Green Thing’ campaign by Blyk, the youth-targeted Mobile Virtual Network Operator, which engaged significant numbers of their 16-24 year old user base in an ongoing dialogue. (This full case study will soon be available on our website.)

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Mark Curtis of Flirtomatic then delivered a fascinating and entertaining presentation about his first-hand experience with a (successful) > his own, self-imposed brackets, mobile internet service. Flirtomatic enjoys 1.3 million UK users and with user statistics such as 1000 pages, per user, per month – regularly features in listings of the Top 5 mobile sites.

Flirtomatic's Mark Curtis
Flirtomatic's Mark Curtis

15% of Flirtomatic’s monthly users pay, and those which do spend an average of £7.50 every month, but turning users into payers remains the site’s key goal. It has monetised largely through the invention of a range of predominantly gift-based services, whereby users can gift each other virtual and physical gifts: from flowers to boobjobs and snowballs. Paying to delete your worst rating from other users has also proved popular. 10% of all mobile billing is done by credit card.

While a slight market pick-up in advertising has been detected this year, it’s still much lower than expected. But it will grow, Mark assured us.

The convergence of premium services and advertising has genuine potential for mobile media and the delivery of branded virtual and physical content. This was best demonstrated by 348,000 gift drinks sent in two weeks through Flirtomatic’s Strongbow campaign. The project allowed users to download a voucher and take it to a participating pub, and enjoyed a 10% click through rate

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The day’s final presenter was Rory Maguire of the Mobile Network Operator, 3. He outlined the operator’s strategy of embracing the internet, partly through Skype, and also by mobilising other popular internet communications which are useful, frequent and viral.

Skype’s adoption on 3’s network is on the rise, he reported, with 42 million Skype calling minutes in the UK during February 2009 and 48 million Skype chats. This, added to 94 million Facebook pageviews and a strong focus on the social networking and content services users really want to use, has seen the network attract a more mobile internet savvy subscribers.

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A closing panel discussed the future of mobile internet services and their integration with new Location Based Services. Rory from 3, Paul from PhonepayPlus and Steve Page from location specialists, Mobile Commerce, all outlined their views of the landscape, incorporating the respective commercial, technical and regulatory landscapes of the technology.

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As the mobile content of the RSS’s main hall gradually thinned out and drifted away into an overcast EC1, the MDA was left to reflect on a day which generated a rich volume of expert mobile internet data, commentary and opinion.

The economic downturn hasn’t been immediately arrested by a proliferation of entrepreneurs successfully monetising the mobile internet. But give it time.

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