When will the tide turn for mobile content?

Last week at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona I was hoping to hear some positive news in the mobile content space. Unfortunately I was sorely disappointed. 

Instead I heard a lot more of the same complaints that have been plaguing the mobile content space for the past year. Growth is flat and mobile operators are still demanding a big chunk of the revenue share making it impossible for many mobile content firms to stay afloat. The direct-to-consumer model--once thought to be so promising--is not the moneymaker that many firms thought it would be because marketing to consumers is no easy task particularly if you don't already have brand awareness. Porting applications to devices is still costly and cumbersome but a necessity if you want to work with any of the tier 1 mobile operators.

In all, I heard a lot of frustration in the voices of the mobile content executives. What was once such a promising and exciting segment of the wireless business has turned into an arena full of dissatisfaction and disappointment.

But there are a few signs of hope on the horizon. Many are excited by the prospect of open networks in the U.S. and are hopeful that Verizon Wireless' pledge to open its network to any device and application in late 2008 will be a boon for the mobile content industry.

Others are hopeful that developments like Nokia's Ovi mobile Internet platform and Sony Ericsson's PlayNow platform will help drive more consumer adoption of mobile content and allow for more entrants into the mobile content space that until now has been very tightly controlled by the operators.

I certainly hope that between now and CTIA Wireless 2008 (April 1-3) there are some positive developments in mobile entertainment that will get us out of this gloomy place.  There are two developments that I've been anxiously waiting for and have yet to see come to fruition:

1. AT&T's much-heralded launch of MediaFLO's mobile TV service. It was originally supposed to launch at the beginning of the year. Rumors then swirled that it would launch earlier this month but that never happened.

2. Verizon Wireless' launch of Real Networks' Rhapsody America's music service. Last August Real Networks announced it would merge its Rhapsody music service with MTV's Urge music service and it would be distributed by Verizon Wireless.  It was expected to debut in early 2008. When asked about the status, Real Networks defers all questions to Verizon Wireless and so far Verizon hasn't responded to my inquiries. -Sue