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Has mobile content become commoditized?

What is it about the word ‘content’ that makes everyone so sick of it? On the one hand it rings of smugness. Undeserved contentment, like that of some super-sized media exec comfortable in the assumption that consumers will lap up whatever they throw at them. Smug like those fond of saying ‘No one ever went bust by underestimating the bad taste of the general public’. And on the other hand it sounds like ‘product': bland and monolithic, stuff you churn out by the batch. Nothing in there that reflects the passion and risk involved in creating something of lasting value, not like ‘record’ or ‘photo’ or ‘editorial’ or even ‘catalog’. Chris Blackwell (who got very rich betting on the mass appeal of Bob Marley rather than underestimating the bad taste of the general public) instructed his team never to use the word ‘product’ when talking about music releases, because it cheapened them. The same could be said about ‘content’. And surely there is no uglier expression in all media at the moment than the dreaded ‘User generated content’. The one form of artistic expression of which everyone is capable. In other words, quite literally, crap.

But when you look at the way content is priced and marketed in mobile, you have to wonder: is that the level of what’s in demand? Is crap where it’s at? Strip out applications, and it’s hard to tell one piece of mobile content from another. One Valentines wallpaper does look much like any other. Britney vs J-Lo vs Mariah ringtones? That’s a race to the bottom in more ways than one. And what of the much trumpeted arrival of mobile video? From Wikipedia: “Commoditization occurs as a goods or services market loses differentiation across its supply base, often by the diffusion of the intellectual capital necessary to acquire or produce it efficiently. As such, goods that formerly carried premium margins for market participants have become commodities, such as generic pharmaceuticals and silicon chips.” One look at You Tube will tell you all you need to know about the diffusion of intellectual capital on digital video platforms. There are even those that argue that applications are becoming commoditized too, though the iPhone App store has put paid to that theory for now. It’s an important stake in the ground, because brands that are lining up to jump into mobile won’t see much value in being associated with commoditized content. The technologists would love to see a self-programming content platform with self-serving mobile ads, to the ultimate detriment and apathy of the consumer. If it gets much more formulaic than this it’ll be ‘Come back Clear Channel, all sins forgiven’. Inevitably, the bar must be raised by independent application developers and those that still believe in programming richer media experiences. It is down to them to differentiate the mobile offering and pull in brands that see value in integrating more closely with content to engage more closely with an audience. The question is, who’s offering them an incentive right now?

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