Rise and rise of mobile media

Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun provides a glimpse of mobile media in the future….

Japanese media are the undisputed world leaders in mobile media. When many places on the planet weren’t even using their cellphones for SMS, the Japanese had mastered delivering content on the mobile platform, and making a solid business from it.

Japan’s Asahi Shimbun is a big media player in world terms. The newspaper has a massive circulation of around 12-million (8-million for morning edition, 4-million for evening edition). Despite these outrageous figures, Asahi is only the second biggest newspaper in Japan. I’d just hate to see how big the biggest is.

When it comes to mobile content, Asahi is also a world leader. There are around 100-million mobile phone handset users in Japan and, by far, more people access the internet via their cellphones than desktop and laptop computers. It’s a trend which the rest of the world will increasingly see – and as a media company, that means mobile is going to be the key area for reaching future readers.

Asahi has around 12 different mobile sites which more than a million subscribers visit. Some of the sites they offer are not only based on Asahi’s own content, but that of partners, and even competitors like CNN.com. Here, the model is to share the revenue on the content it aggregates.

Asahi once had a cosy relationship with the cellphone operators who used to push tons of traffic to their mobile sites and even assist with billing readers. But now that seems to have changed. One of the major obstacles Asahi faces is that cellphone operators in Japan are increasingly involving themselves in the media and publishing game. It means operators are starting to logically promote their own mobile content and competitor media properties ahead of Asahi’s mobile properties.

This is going to be a key issue for every publisher around the world as the mobile platform grows in significance as a content vehicle. Media companies have somewhat of a tussle on their hands as cellphone network operators evolve into more than just network operators, but increasingly resemble competitor media companies. This will see them becoming aggregators of content or eventually producing their own content.

Competition is a good thing, as long it is fair. And the issue is that, while mobile phone users are not excluded from surfing outside a network operator’s content portal, they are strongly guided to the network’s own offering via dedicated buttons on the handset or strategically placed icons and bookmarks in the phone’s operating system.

Could this be a new area of domination and monopoly, much like the way Microsoft has been accused of dominating the operating system by pushing its software products to the exclusion of others? Is this what the mobile network operators are doing by pushing users to their own content portals via the handsets

A key difference with the Microsoft comparison is that cellphone operators don’t manufacture the handsets or the cellphone operating system — but they have close relationships and leverage with the companies that do. Perhaps this will be a new battleground for legal challenges, regulation or maybe more collaboration in the future?

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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