Remember when romance was defined by songs on the radio dedicated to the one you love? Sure you do. But what does that have to do with mobile and wireless?
The answer lies with Telenor, a Norwegian telecom that has devised a way to make money off of consumer-focused, value-added mobile applications with relatively few development costs.
Last month, Telenor Mobile Interactive, a Rockville, Md., subsidiary of Telenor, rolled out the latest iteration of a wireless messaging service that allows broadcasters to deliver value-added audience services to mobile devices. For 50 cents, fans of Fuse, a New York City music video network that bills itself the “nations first all-music, viewer-influenced” television network, can key their dedication requests into their cell phones, BlackBerries or other mobile devices, and then tune in to see their dedications stream along the bottom of their TV screens during Fuses “Dedicate Live” program. At the risk of dating myself, I remember using rotary dial phones to accomplish similar feats on Top 40 radio.
Fuse isnt the first network to avail itself of Telenors messaging platform, and its not likely to be the last. For nearly a year now, ABC Daytime has used the service to draw soap opera fans deeper into its melodramas by offering subscription services that alert fans to whats coming up on their favorite soaps via text messages.
What interests me here isnt so much the application as the way in which its accomplished—using the text messaging capabilities built into mobile devices. Much of the buzz about developing value-added mobile services has been diminished by the difficulties of bringing content-rich applications like games and video to the multitude of device formats that populate the mobile landscape.
Telenor simply uses the SMS (Short Message Service) capabilities built into those devices to deliver services that are high on value, if thin on content. SMS simply streams text messages of up to 160 characters to a destination. Its simple. But, hey! It works, and its here now, ready to be deployed for whatever message you want to send.
: SMS as killer app platform?”> The Telenor service demonstrates the power of the argument IBM engineer Wes Biggs put forward last year in an article for IBM developerWorks called “Smart and Simple Messaging: Discover the hidden potential of SMS as a killer app builder.” “Like e-mail, SMS isnt sexy,” Biggs wrote. “It isnt debonair by nature, nor can it be dressed up in fancy clothes. If youve got an SMS-enabled phone and a message arrives, youll see the message that was sent, no more, no less. It can be tough, therefore, to envision SMS as the foundation of a killer app. But building a killer app has less to do with sexiness than with providing a valuable service.”
Reagan Ramsey, executive vice president of media development at Telenor Mobile Interactive, told eWEEK.com that the companys chief challenge in deploying the service in the United States was negotiating billing and financial reconciliation with the telecoms. “We had to go to all the carriers and get them to agree to have us be an in-between party between them and the broadcaster, and we also had to get them to let us have access to their billing platform,” Ramsey said.
The service is now available on Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless, and T-Mobile. Anyone with text messaging capabilities built into their mobile device—and thats most of us—can use it.
For broadcasters, having a potential installed base of millions represents a ready-made pipeline into the very audience theyre attempting to engage—young mobiles with cell phones and messaging devices appended to their hands.
Ramsey said SMS services are “starting to be very significant here in the U.S.” For broadcasters, he said, “this becomes a revenue-generating activity” that complements their core business.
: More services on the way”> Michael Goldstein, Fuses vice president of business development, sees the service as one more way to reach—and build the loyalty of—its target audience. “While audience participation is already high, we thought that the addition of a premium level of service might intrigue a certain percentage of the audience to increase their chances of being seen on TV,” he said.
It was also a way of enlisting the participation of those who are not near a PC when they watch television. “This method allows them to use their phones as terminals to join in on the dedicating festivities,” Goldstein said.
Fuse plans to expand the service this summer with a premium messaging club, in which members will be able to send an unlimited number of dedications for a flat monthly fee.
Given the simplicity of the service and the ease with which it can be deployed to potentially millions of users, its not surprising that Telenor plans to branch out. Television, Ramsey told said, “is kind of the first domain.”
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