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Eyes on the Enterprise: All Mobile Devices Are Not the Same

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Well, I guess it’s official: Mobile is the shiniest of the new toys in the world of online multimedia. Why else would the wise editors of Streaming Media magazine decide to focus this edition on making online video and audio more accessible to users on the go? Like all good publications, Streaming Media merely serves as a reflection of what people in the marketplace are talking about, and the interest in mobile multimedia is palpable.

Like moths to a flame, we are all susceptible to being drawn in by the lure of hot industry buzz. After all, who doesn’t want to catch the wave of podcasting or take part in a revolution that literally puts a world of video into the palm of your hand? But at the risk of standing in front of a runaway train, it could be instructive for us to take some lessons about the prospects of mobile multimedia from those sober, boring business types living over in the corporate world.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Not all business executives are sticks in the mud when it comes to embracing online audio and video in the mobile environment. Indeed, in a survey of 1,212 executives conducted by Interactive Media Strategies (IMS) in 2Q 2008, 24% of respondents described themselves as very interested in accessing business podcasting content, and another 30% said they are somewhat interested in accessing this type of on-demand multimedia on a personal media player, such as the iPod. Put it together and it means that 54% of all business executives surveyed said they are interested in accessing business multimedia via a personal media player—incrementally ahead of the 50% who cited interest in business podcasting in the 2007 executive survey fielded by IMS.

When we look at the field of mobile multimedia, the big question is what really matters to the end user. Does the magic come from the mobile part? Or does it come from the multimedia aspect? In what may be a surprise to some industry buzz-mongers, survey results can be interpreted to show that the secret sauce continues to reside in the basic power of digital audio and video to engage selected end users. Simply put, the executives who use online multimedia on their computers are the most likely to embrace it for on-the-go applications.

Among those survey respondents who use traditional webcasting on at least a weekly basis, a cumulative 72% cited some level of interest in experiencing business content in a podcasting format. Among those not using webcasting currently, only 29% described themselves as interested in podcasting alternatives. Only 8% of overall respondents reported that they are "very interested" in business podcasts. In short, if you like and use webcasting to get business-related information, you’re a great candidate for business podcasting. If you don’t, the sheer availability of mobile multimedia is not likely to suddenly transform you into a digital media junkie.

The implications of these survey results may be sobering to those pinning their hopes on mobile as the next great salvation of the digital media business. From where we sit, mobile seems to be a very useful technology segment that expands the reach and usability of digital media in the business sector. But we’re not sure that it’s a digital promised land capable of nurturing new multibillion-dollar markets for business communications on its own. Rather, it will evolve as a subset of the overall market for digital media in the business sector.

Rather than focusing blindly on the mobile aspects enabled by wireless networks and downloading features, it may be better for everyone to emphasize the context in which this mobile content is experienced. After all, the iPod is pretty much a toy for entertainment that has positioned itself as a great venue for experiencing downloadable music and, now, television shows. In contrast, other portable devices such as the BlackBerry are more closely tied with work activities.

And don’t think that consumers don’t recognize the difference. A few paragraphs back, we talked about the 54% of business executives who cited interest in accessing business content via a personal media player. Of this same group, 61% said they would be interested in accessing business content via a BlackBerry device.

Technically, it shouldn’t be that much of a difference. Digits are digits, after all. A BlackBerry with video playback capabilities wouldn’t be that much different from an iPod with video playback capabilities. Yet the branding distinctions remain in the minds of the end users.

Those distinctions shouldn’t be ignored. Instead of putting our faith blindly on the miracle growth powers of the mobile market, vendors may be well-advised to figure out ways to serve up multimedia via devices and venues that mesh best with the specific needs of their target audiences.

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