The tablet effect? Media giants hail 'mobile-first' era

by Doug Drinkwater

May 9 2013

BuzzFeed, Google, Unilever and The Weather Channel had some contrasting views on HTML5 apps, the future of mobile advertising and the role of mobile in the media industry at a recent event in London.

Following a flurry of positive reports on the state of tablet advertising, of publishers monetizing with mobile and the ever-growing adoption of HTML5 apps, all three trends were tackled head on at The Financial Times’ Digital Media Conference in London last week.

The two-day event saw panels deliberate over the future of digital and the place of social networking, but it was the subject of ‘Can brands make money on mobile’ which attracted significant buzz.

Senior figures from Google, The Weather Channel, consumer goods company Unilever and pop culture news website BuzzFeed all took part in the panel, which was moderated by Richard Waters, FT’s west coast managing editor.

Right from the off, the panellists were in unison agreement – media brands must now embrace the "mobile-first" age.

“Mobile is changing the industry,” said Luis Di Como, senior VP for global media at Unilever, which controls over 400 brands including Ben & Jerry's, Dove, Tony & Guy and VO5. “Unilever is changing its media strategy to go mobile-first.”

“I personally think that mobile changes everything,” added Dan Cobley, Google UK's managing director.

“The Internet is with everyone at all times now. The average smartphone owner looks at the device 150 times a day, so media companies and brand owners now have got an almost infinite number of opportunities to get their message or content in front of the consumer.”

BuzzFeed joined the chorus. “We see higher sharing on mobile than desktop and you think about why – it’s because it (mobile) is snack-able content. When you wait in line for your coffee you get some content, some information,” said Jonathon Perelman, VP of agency strategy and development.

All panellists agreed that mobile is the link between other multi-screen devices. "Mobile is probably the device connecting all the others together. You have to be across all screens”, said Patrick Vogt, president of the international division at The Weather Company.

HTML5 vs. native apps? It’s too tight to call

There has been a lot of talk on the suitability of mobile HTML5 apps of late and given this, and perhaps the fact that the panellists were talking at an FT conference (FT has been one of the web app’s greater supporters), the speakers butted heads when it came to media’s view on the mobile web against native apps.

Google’s Cobley said that responsive design is increasingly becoming a hit in media circles.

“If you think about native or HTML5, responsive design is actually becoming increasingly prevalent for running across [different platforms]," said the Google exec.

And whereas Unilever and The Weather Channel spoke of the need for “personal native app experiences”, BuzzFeed’s Perelman was more inclined to concur with Cobley.

“From content perspective, when people wake up, they don’t go into a BuzzFeed app. They might go social to see what people are talking about and there could be some integration with our content. [Native] apps are great, but really the mobile web is the future.”

Media brands retool for mobile advertising but challenges lie ahead

All three panellists spoke briefly on the challenge of mobile advertising, not only with formatting issues but also with the view that most smartphone and tablet users would most likely still find mobile ads to be intrusive.

BuzzFeed said that the mobile age had kicked out age-old formats like the banner ad, something contrary to recent research reports.

“BuzzFeed never does banner ads. When was the last great banner ad you saw?”, said Perelman, before adding that it was essential for ad formats to be specific to the format they were on.

The exec also lamented that traditional ad formats on mobile were susceptible to accidental clicks, but Google claims to have already got around this. UK boss Dan Cobley said that its mobile display ad formats require 1.5 clicks.

Vogt, formerly of Dell, HP and Sony, said that the rise of mobile devices like the smartphone and tablet had forced The Weather Channel to completely retool it advertising.

“We changed way we advertised. We're now making the ad formats with our branded background as part of the mobile app. It gives you a beautiful picture with branding and doesn't interfere with the usability of the app. You can still get your weather information really quickly.”

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.

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