By Jason Ankeny Given the inextricable relationship between hype and advertising, it is only fitting that mobile advertising is itself the subject of so much ballyhoo. From ad-supported video content to in-game marketing to idle-screen pitches, advertising opportunities are sprouting in most every segment of the mobile data ecosystem, and everyoneâ€”from new-media behemoths such as Google, Yahoo and MSN to old-school broadcast and print giantsâ€”wants a piece of the action. Despite the hype, mobile advertising is still in its infancy, generating roughly $871 million in 2006, according to Informa Telecoms & Media. For that figure to grow commensurate with more established advertising platforms, carriers must reconcile their concern for consumer privacy with their interest in the bottom line. Carriers are key â€œWeâ€™re fueled by an understanding that you cannot make or create an advertising inventory of immense value without carrier involvement,â€ says Roger Wood, senior vice president and general manager, Americas, for messaging infrastructure technologies provider Amobee Media Systems. â€œThe real gold lies in getting the carriers involved, because of the level of precision you can bring into the advertising process.â€ Carriers control not only the distribution channels but also the subscriber data that promises to distinguish mobile advertising from previous marketing platforms. Consumer profiles encompassing even basic subscriber data such as age and location promise to enable laser-targeted campaigns designed for maximum relevancyâ€”the dilemma facing carriers is how much customer information they want to hand over, regardless of its potential value. â€œOperators are being appropriately cautious with the speed they enter mobile advertising,â€ says Jason Spero, vice president of marketing with mobile advertising network provider Abmob. â€œThey need to be carefulâ€”if they start pushing things at the user, they could alienate their audience. Thatâ€™s why the work being done to standardize ads is so important. Operators understand they hold valuable informationâ€”they donâ€™t necessarily have to serve and sell ads, but the ability to expose targeting information uniquely belongs to them.â€ The carrier thought process is starting to turn in advertisingâ€™s favor, however. â€œCarriers see they need to be central,â€ Wood says. â€œWhile their brand is the most significantly affected in terms of the relationship with the consumer, they understand they cannot ignore this much longerâ€”advertising is happening, and their brand is in the middle whether they like it or not. Carriers are beginning to understand the time is now to assert themselves as media entitiesâ€”part of being a media company, and having a deck and content, is the ability to harness ad revenue.â€ Brands waiting in the wings When carriers are ready to fully commit to mobile advertising, there will be no shortage of suitors ready to capitalize on the opportunity. Multinational brands including Coca-Cola, Intel and Adidas are already advertising on mobile, and countless others are waiting in the wings. â€œThis year has brought a dramatic increase in the amount of advertising supply in the marketâ€”in general, supply outstrips demand, but weâ€™re seeing a fair amount of action,â€ says Jeff Janer, chief marketing officer for mobile advertising software and services provider Third Screen Media, which last month was acquired by AOL. â€œFortune 500 companies are now beginning to build out their mobile presences. In essence, itâ€™s much like the way the Internet built out.â€ If nothing else, the holding pattern enables mobile advertising service providers a chance to determine which types of ads are best suited to the wireless platform. While click-to-video ads and in-game sponsorships are promising, for now the industry is sticking to the basicsâ€”i.e., text and graphical ads as well as direct response messaging campaigns, like sweepstakes and coupons. But for all the hiccups, the overwhelming consensus is that mobile advertising is merely a question of â€˜when,â€™ not â€˜if.â€™ â€œLast year, we had a lot of bigger media players come inâ€”this is the year where youâ€™ll see the type of content that defines mobile advertising, and a lot of that will come from the social media space,â€ says Heidi Lehmann, Third Screen Mediaâ€™s vice president of content acquisition and strategy. â€œYou have the phone as an interactive deviceâ€”now weâ€™re starting to intertwine that with data and create targeted ads. Advertisers are waiting to see how to get even closer to the user and their activities, and thatâ€™s all tied to social media. Weâ€™re also seeing a lot of cross-media content buys. A mobile advertising campaign needs reach, or else itâ€™s just a sponsorship.â€ Leaders in the mobile advertising space will speak at the â€œMobile Advertisingâ€”Exploring the Possibilitiesâ€ panel on Friday at 1:45 p.m.