It all began in 1973 when the first mobile phone call was made by Dr Martin Cooper (former general manager at Motorola) to his rival Joel Engel who was Head of Research at Bell Labs. Dr Martin Cooper invented the mobile phone in 1973 but it was sometime before mobile phones were available commercially.
It was not until 1989 that Sri Lanka was introduced to mobile telephony by Celltel Lanka Limited (now rebranded as Tigo). It is worth noting that Sri Lanka was the first country in South Asia to be introduced to this service. Back in the time, handsets were large, expensive and typically used only by well to do high flyers. Today things are very much different: nearly 40% of Sri Lankans have a mobile phone. It is predicted to reach 50% penetration by mid 2009.
So with nearly half the population carrying a mobile phone, it is fair to say that it has become the new mass media. Statistically, it is the 7th mass media. The traditional mass media are well known and established with known formats. Starting with Print (dating from the 1500s), it introduced the business model of owning a book and introduced advertising and subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. With the invention of a sound recording device by Thomas Edison in 1877, it (Recordings) became the new form of mass media in the 1890s.
Cinema soon followed (1900s) with moving images and multimedia content and the business model of paying every time you viewed a movie. In the 1910s, Radio broadcasting was introduced and this brought about a ‘streaming’ approach to content delivery (that is, if you didn’t listen, you would miss the content). Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation became the first radio station in Asia when it started broadcasting on experimental basis in 1923. Radio was a powerful medium as it was received simultaneously by all once the content was broadcast. Television (1950s) bridged the multimedia present in the cinema with the broadcasting in radio. TV has been a dominant mass media for the past 50 years.
1990s brought about a shake in the mass media industry. Imagine having all the previous mass media replicated in one medium. Yes, enter the Internet. Read a book, download a recording, watch a movie, listen to radio, view TV: you name it and it can be done. Add 2 more features to it, and it’s a threat to the previous five media. Interactivity and search. We don’t end our connection with an article by just reading it. We can respond immediately by sending a comment on how we feel about the article. It has opened a new window towards bringing the world closer by connecting people. Search has become the most used application on the web and has made companies such as Yahoo and Google worth billions of dollars. With such a big player in the market, is there any room for a newer form of mass media that can replicate the success of the internet or the other 5?
Enter the 7th mass media, the mobile phone. Like the internet before, it is able to replicate everything the previous 6 mass media can do. Mobile media’s influence will be greater than all we’ve seen so far of the internet, so much so that mobile to internet will be as dominant in its media audience reach and media impact on society as TV was to radio in the second half of the last century. Don’t believe me? I wouldn’t either until I read what is to follow.
The mobile phone has a number of prominent unique benefits not available on previous mass media. Firstly and most importantly, mobile phone is the first truly personal medium. We do not share it even with our spouse. It is that personal. Secondly, we always carry it around. Even going to bed, we would sleep with the phone physically in bed. Most of us even use it as our alarm clock. Which brings us to the third benefit. The phone is the first always-on mass medium. It is now catching on in Sri Lanka for people to get alerts via SMS onto one’s phone.
The fourth benefit is of equal importance. The phone has a built-in payment mechanism. No other medium has a built-in payment mechanism, even on the internet you have to provide a credit card or subscribe to a service like PayPal, etc. But already today, older media collect payments through the mobile phone. TV shows like Super star earn millions via SMS votes.
With phones coming with built-in cameras and prices slashing, more people are able to afford a device which can nearly replace the digital camera. As the cameraphone (also our video recorder) is in our pockets always ready to snap images and clips, we rarely need to use a digital camera which is safely stored away under the camera case at home). With a fast paced volatile world, it is possible to capture unique events using the mobile device and then share it with the world by submitting the user generated content into YouTube or CNN’s iReport thereby radically changing the media world.
With a high level of young adults using a mobile phone, it has become a trend for them to fiddle with their phones while idling among social gatherings or on a journey via bus/train. If not sending a text message, they would be busy playing an addictive game downloaded free from the web via GPRS. These are potential hot spots for companies/advertisers to seriously think about, not in the future, but now. They can incorporate advertisements embedded within mobile games which allow the game to be made available for free, thus reaching a maximum user base. The possibilities are endless.
Finally, the seventh benefit is that a mobile phone captures the most accurate customer information in any medium. On a report in May 2007, AMF Ventures measured and found that TV is able to capture about 1% of audience data and 10% on the Internet. However, on a mobile, 90% of audience data can be identified.
What is important to note, is that the phone will not kill other medium, they will all adjust, like radio did to TV.
So with the above facts noted, it can be fair to say that mobile advertising is here to stay and could revolutionize the way it will penetrate the end user. With a high level of precision that is not even present on the web, targeted and personalized advertising content would make the end-user actively participate in the promotions. Here in Sri Lanka, Value Added Services (VAS) for mobiles is still in its infancy. The mobile networks in Sri Lanka have a lot of work ahead and should educate its subscribers to the doors of VAS. For advertising firms, if the importance of the 7th mass media is not taken seriously, be prepared to fall out from the competition.