The new screens: hype or reality?

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This article of mine appeared in the Brand Wagon supplement of The Financial Express, today:

In a recent survey among marketers in the US, it was reported that demand for mobile media services is “not yet living up to the industry hype”. The “not living up to hype” part could very well be true about various new media avenues too.

While social networking platforms, mobile phones and tablets have found ready acceptance among consumers, marketers are at various stages of scepticism with respect to their potential with brands. For every new media enthusiast who proclaims that ‘digital is the future’ there are perhaps ten sceptics who dismiss them as fads. The truth is perhaps somewhere in between. In fact, those who proclaim that digital is the future maybe doing a dis-service by forcing all of us to think of it as another ‘medium’…as an ‘add-on’ instead of treating it as part of an integrated campaign.

Media pundits in India have said that while interest in the digital medium was heightened in 2008, the following year marketers played safe thanks to the downturn. Now there is a renewed interest in the medium – digital is fast emerging as number three (after television and print) with advertising expenditure on the medium being close to that of radio. What can accelerate growth and ensure wider adoption? The emergence of a new medium – the tablet – and faster mobile services as catalysts for growth have been talked about. What could be the other growth triggers? Here are some thoughts:

Customised Content

Just as most brands put out brochureware on the internet early on, magazines and newspapers view the tablet as ‘pdf-ware’. Most of the magazines and dailies available on the iPad are no more than pdf versions of the printed versions. The interactive nature of the device, the available real estate and faster connectivity are barely used.

While apps like Flipboard have made the news reading experience a visual delight on tablets, the mainline dailies are yet to make the change. Content customized for the tablet and an attractive subscription system (The Daily from the Fox stable has been launched) is seen as the much needed fillip for the brand. The opportunity for dailies and magazines may be more in western countries where print circulation is on the decline and not so much in India. Brands from certain categories – hotels, luxury – which require the consumer to soak in an experience have already taken to this medium. In India, DraftFCB’s healthcare division is experimenting with Android-powered tablets as medical detailers for the doctor community.

Brands, utility and entertainment

iPhone and Android apps are not just about Angry Birds and Paper Toss. Branded apps, with a clear utility value have managed to gain popularity (when asked to list his top three iPhone apps, the rapper T-Pain listed the app from Delta which helps him on his frequent travels!). India specific apps are beginning to gain popularity through Android and other mobile platforms. Maybe a travel app from an airline brand or a recipe app from a cooking oil brand will break into the big league in India.

Speed, bandwidth and size

An average iPad app for a luxury car brand, like Audi, weighs in at 450-600MB. As a brochure with rich media capabilities, it surely is eye catching but the size at our download speeds is a huge deterrent. While the premiere of Dabanng on YouTube is a great sign for content distribution, watching the entire film at 400 MB file size on our bandwidths would be a challenge. Even with the advent of 3G, wi-fi hotspots and broadband data cards, technology has to show us the way to deliver rich media content in a manageable size.

All this would mean nothing without content creators. Digital experience developers and mobile platform content developers have become part of agency talent abroad. While they have are available with specialist agencies or as freelancers here, maybe it’s time they become part of agency talent soon. Adoption of the new screens from brands may well remain a hype otherwise.

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