Device Differentiation Drives Demand for Wireless Content Management
Tira Wireless CEO's Recipe for "Order from Chaos"
By: Doug Barre
Mar. 7, 2006 10:00 AM
With hundreds of different mobile handset models in the hands of 1.7 billion users and counting, adapting content for each of these devices has become a challenge of monumental proportions for developers and publishers. Attempts have been made on the part of industry players to provide some relief to adaptation woes through the development of de facto standards. But given the number of variables that characterize each device on the market – whether that be screen size, processing power or memory requirements – today’s developers and/or publishers can’t even begin the process without a thorough working knowledge of all the elements comprising virtually all the devices that populate the mobile market. Given the escalating numbers, effective content management is becoming a tall order indeed.
This fragmentation problem is not going to go away any time soon as even more devices and capabilities are being brought to market. Whether the differentiating factor is cosmetic or technical, the ability to deliver applications for multiple devices at an affordable price point has necessitated a new approach to the content management process – one that provides a cost-effective means to resolve the fragmentation challenge and facilitate the delivery of high quality applications to a broader market.
This article will look at some of the trends driving fragmentation today, the challenges that this brings to developers and publishers, and what they can do to overcome them and bring their products to market faster, more efficiently and more cost-effectively.
The Digital Mother Lode
Digitization of entertainment content has revolutionized everything from film production to cell phones. We live in an age of video on demand, Internet communications and handheld devices – all of which are feeding the insatiable demand for digital content.
While all sectors are part of this digital feeding frenzy, mobile represents a key growth element for digital entertainment – and one which publishers are attacking full force for some very valid reasons.
A.T. Kearney estimates that there are 1.7 billion mobile phone users in the world today, while a recent research report from LogicaCMG indicates that the mobile content market is set to triple to more than $9 billion within a year. Informa Telecoms and Media forecasts that total mobile operator revenues from mobile content and applications will reach $124 billion by 2010.
While this represents a potential bonanza for mobile players, this market potential comes with a significant challenge that is showing no signs of going away any time in the foreseeable future – and that is finding ways to effectively repurpose content that can address all devices in all markets without impacting quality or brand integrity.
The Digital Divides
Obviously this rapidly growing market offers a compelling driver for new content development. Yet the sheer number of mobile content assets – including games, images, ring tones, music, and video clips – that have been created to meet the wide diversity of mobile devices need to be efficiently managed to maximize the market potential for digital content.
Today there are hundreds of different models requiring content to be optimized for each device and market. And the continual supply of new devices being introduced into the market keeps adding to the complexity and cost of content delivery. Within those devices there is fragmentation at every level of the mobile “stack”:
Then there are the branding issues to contend with as more and more content makes its way to the market and digital rights owners become increasingly vigilant in protecting their assets. Everything from wallpaper to ring tones are relentlessly monitored for brand integrity. Simply put, Disney would never allow Mickey Mouse to be stretched to fit a certain phone’s screen size, nor would 50 Cent tolerate a false note in a music download or branded ring tone.
As digital rights owners strive to keep their assets in check across multiple devices and markets, mobile operators have their own competitive drivers that add fuel to the fragmentation fire. Segmentation is now adding to the problem. Mobile operators are introducing a myriad of packages and capabilities geared to specific markets such as women, travelers, business people, teens, sports enthusiasts and more. In tandem with that, hardware developers are designing devices to match these needs – ranging from simple, lightweight fashion statements to multi-functional units that do everything from voice to video streaming.
Added to this mix is the fact that unlike the Windows world, there is no powerhouse player behind the scenes that can drive adoption of de facto standards. While there are acknowledged leaders, none have enough of a controlling interest in the market to lead the charge. Even if there were, the multi-faceted nature of mobile content development mentioned previously makes it difficult to implement standards at all levels. As it stands today, each phone has its own vendor-created operating system, runtime environment, components and countless other elements. Even attempts at standards such as MIDP 2.0 and other JSRs (Java Specification Requests) only add to the fragmentation issues since they too must be accommodated for in the content deployment process.
One last challenge – but certainly not least – is the matter of shrinking timelines in bringing content to market. Product churn has become a matter of course. A device sold today might have six months before it is replaced on the store shelves by a newer variation. Add to that a maximum of 18 months of consumer usage for that device before it becomes completely obsolete. What that means for developers and publishers is a mere two year floating window before a full development cycle starts all over again – which is especially challenging as more and more features and functions are added with each passing day.
When one takes all these factors into considerations – i.e. device fragmentation, brand protection, market segmentation, lack of standards and escalating product churn – it is evident that the content management problem is here to stay and in fact, only promises to get worse. As it stands today, global distribution for large-scale publishers and distributors can translate into up to 5,000 different mobile content assets produced each month. These assets can include multiple operator and device specific versions of games, music, images and downloadable video clips. This volume quickly grows into the tens of thousands when one considers supporting assets such as sound and image files or marketing descriptions and images. Over a year, it is possible for a large mobile content publisher to create over 100,000 different mobile asset files as part of its mobile content deployment process.
As long as the forces are at work creating new applications, new market approaches and new design elements, developers and publishers are faced with a challenge of potential epic proportions. The good news is, those creative forces have also been at work in bringing solutions to content publishers that help them overcome these challenges.
The Elements of a Remedy
So how does a content publisher get all of their different types of content to all devices to a mass market of users in a world where the parameters are in a constant state of flux? There are number of areas that are critical to success going forward:
Most of these issues can be addressed to varying degrees through the deployment of asset management tools. However, while these have been available for some, the world of mobile content specifically has not been addressed as well as it should be – until recently.
“Vanilla” solutions admittedly do a noteworthy job of handling any type of digital asset for any type of application. In the mobile content world however, these tools lack the required industry specific knowledge to help users maximize revenues and optimize market opportunities - such as operator/manufacturer specifications, porting and quality control requirements; market opportunity identification and planning. However, there are now solutions available that are specific to this industry, and can play an instrumental role in bringing content management issues under control. These solutions combine the best of digital asset management and workflow systems with mobile content deployment know-how, creating an unparalleled end-to-end process.
The Bottom Line
It is evident that publishers operating in the mobile world are facing an uphill battle in maintaining control in an increasingly fragmented and segmented market. The various competitive forces have brought a number of challenges to light. At the same time, they have driven considerable innovation in the way of enabling technologies that aid developers in mastering their content development processes.
As market demands continue to escalate, today’s developers and/or publishers cannot survive competitively without a thorough working knowledge of the devices proliferating in the mobile market. Although effective content management may seem a tall order, it’s one that is finally being dealt with effectively.
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