FEATURE: Off Portal Downloads and the Boston Red Sox

Off Portal Downloads and the Boston Red Sox
Action Engine's Scott Silk Gives His Perspective on the Off-Portal Downloads Market

As recently as last year many media companies still believed the only way to deliver their content to wireless consumers was through the mobile operator portals. Everyone assumed that consumers would look primarily to their mobile operator to find games, ringtones, news, and other mobile applications. Around that same time, most folks were also placing their bets on the New York Yankees to win the 2004 World Series.

As we all now know, the boys in Boston won the World Series, Vodafone announced that "at least 50 percent of content revenues" were coming from off-portal transactions, and suddenly everyone was rooting for the underdog again. Analysts began to agree with this new off-portal trend as well with Ovum predicting that by 2007 more than 40 percent of the projected $70 billion global mobile content market will be outside operator portals.

We recently commissioned our own worldwide mobile usability study and the results were the same: respondents selected third party off-portal download sites as their preferred method for downloading content. The results were even stronger for Europe, where 69 percent of respondents voted for going off-portal.

It seems almost indisputable that off-portal download sites are becoming the most popular mechanism for accessing and buying new content. So what does this mean for you?

The Big Brand/Content Provider: Off portal means that the big brands, like AOL and Disney, can deepen their relationship with their consumers and extend their value from televisions and PCs to the mobile device. For the small start-up content providers, however, off-portal downloading means increased visibility, providing a delivery option that wouldn't have been possible if a meeting with a major mobile operator was required.

The Mobile Application Developers: Companies which offer a fast and easy way to access mobile content are expected to get a boost from this trend toward going off-portal. Content providers want consumers to have a positive experience discovering and using their content and mobile operators want to drive repeat usage of their services. Everyone will be looking to enabling technologies and companies who specialize in mobile usability to deliver the content in easy-to-use applications.

Also, it is becoming increasingly important for successful off-portal companies to look toward the mobile operator portal to create awareness for their offerings among subscribers.  These companies are now relying on the mobile operator to do traditional product positioning (i.e., portal advertising and placement).  Companies like  are providing solutions that help these content providers increase discoverability and simplify accessibility to their offering in both online and offline scenarios.

The Mobile Operator: While the off-portal trend may seem like a threat to operators, many are already abandoning their walled gardens for a more 'open' approach to delivering content. T-Mobile recently announced that it would be working with Google to make it easier for its customers to access web pages and Qpass announced earlier this year that "off-portal sales saw an average monthly growth rate of 141 percent in Q1 2005". These numbers translate to millions of dollars in revenue for mobile operators both from revenue sharing deals with content providers and increased network usage and data plan sales.

The Consumer: In many ways, however, the real winner of the off-portal trend is the mobile consumer who will now have a wide and diverse selection of content, pricing, and download options to choose from. Off-portal mobile content sites that offer fast and easy-to-use applications could finally relieve the frustrations of the mobile consumer who has typed on tiny phone key pads and suffered through painful between-click connection delays to reach even the smallest bit of content.

But perhaps the best news of all is that with so many off-portal sites now available to download game scores, video highlights, and team/player stats, baseball fans have all the wireless technology necessary to watch Boston win again in 2005!

Scott G. Silk is CEO of Action Engine.