The Myth Of The Fourth Screen

from the communicate,-not-consume dept

In the last few months, we’ve been hearing all sorts of hype about how the mobile phone is the “fourth screen” for broadcast content — after TV, movie and computer screens. Because of that, there’s been plenty of recent efforts (covering video games, movies and music) to get all that content onto mobile phones, though (not surprisingly) the wireless industry has gone about it all wrong. From things like building up ridiculous walled gardens to jumping on silly copy protection bandwagons. All of it, though, is the wrong approach — focused on leading people to broadcast content rather than letting people create, share and interact with content with each other. So, it’s no surprise to hear Ericsson’s CEO go off on how mobile music and TV would be “the main drivers” in getting people to use mobile broadband offerings. As part of that, he was announcing Ericsson’s new partnership with Napster, which makes almost no sense. Beyond the obvious questions about Napster’s ability to make it in the mobile content world, you have to wonder, why Ericsson? They’re a hardware company. If anything, this is just an attempt to compete with the Motorola/iTunes combination — but we’ve already seen the mobile operators balk at such combos, even with the built up loyalty iTunes brings to the table (which Napster doesn’t have at all). It’s the operators who own the customer relationship. Routing around that at the handset maker doesn’t mean consumers will ever see anything. The operators want to make these types of deals themselves, even if they are misguided. Meanwhile, Ericsson may claim that mobile music and movies will be the main driver for mobile data usage, but there’s still nothing to support this. Throughout their entire history, the mobile phone, like the internet before it, has been a communications platform — not a content platform. People buy phones to communicate and interact with others — not to passively consume content. These deals may sound good, but there’s very little of substance (or, um, customer demand) behind them. Update: Carlo points out that Ericsson probably wants to sell this to operators, rather than route around them… but, that doesn’t impact most of the points made. Why would the operators include another middleman when they could go direct? And it’s still not clear that there’s really that much demand for such a thing.

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