Entertainment weakly: Mobile content stumbles

Beyoncé's dad? Really? That's the best Mobile Entertainment Live! can do?
That's right: Music World Entertainment president Mathew Knowles, better known as the father of R&B superstar Beyoncé, will keynote March 31's Mobile Entertainment Live! event, sponsored by Billboard, Nielsen Mobile and The Hollywood Reporter and held in conjunction with CTIA Wireless 2008. Knowles will share his thoughts on subjects including Samsung's Beyoncé-branded B'Phone, mobile gaming and, presumably, how to ride the coattails of your talented and smoking-hot daughter to the mid-ranks of music industry power. (Rumored keynoters including Tina Yothers, Abe Vigoda and Oprah's best friend Gayle King are apparently all too busy to attend.)

All kidding aside, the humdrum Mobile Entertainment Live! lineup speaks volumes about the overall malaise that continues to plague the mobile content industry as this year's CTIA event looms. Consumer adoption is stagnant, market research suggests limited interest in features beyond voice and text, and highly-touted services like AT&T's MediaFLO mobile TV effort and the Verizon Wireless/MTV/RealNetworks mobile music initiative Rhapsody America remain in limbo, with no definitive launch date on the horizon. Only Apple's iPhone, which is driving mobile web surfing to record levels, seems capable of generating subscriber excitement.

"Honestly, this market is a bit of a disappointment," admits James Colby, vice president and CMO of communications solutions provider Comverse Americas. "If you look back three or four years ago, there were some great expectations for mobile content, but that promise has yet to be realized. We're seeing huge amounts of growth in traffic, but the majority of that is driven by basic communication services like messaging and mobile surfing. Content is just not taking off."

On the bright side, Colby expects big things from services like mobile social networking. "We're still fairly excited about the connection between social networking, messaging and content," he says. "Everyone has a camera now, and while most [photos] are held captive on the device, there is still a huge upside for connecting that content to sites like MySpace and Flickr."

Perhaps most promising of all is mobile operators' ongoing pricing war--if unlimited data plans can ease consumer cost concerns, mobile multimedia may finally go mainstream. "The mobile Internet era is upon us, and with all the new rate plans, who knows how things are going to pan out?" Colby says. "At $100 a month for all-you-can-eat data, people may be more inclined to use their available minutes to do things that aren't just work-related." -Jason