Friday, April 16, 2010

Make it a to-do: Mobile

I wonder how many newsroom execs, just back from the annual meeting of the American Society of News Editors, put  MOBILE in big block letters at the top of their to-do list.

Capitalizing on smartphones as a news and revenue strategy figured into the keynote delivered by Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the conference's opening and at a session two days later that featured Yahoo's Matthew Idema, a vice president in charge of local initiatives.

Idema offered a peek at his company's soon-to-launch smartphone app, which should have scared the bejesus out of the newspaper editors: It will offer where-you're-at weather, traffic, news, tweets and blogs, as well as nearby specials offered by businesses.

"(S)ounds like a potential 'newspapers should have created it first' moment," said one observer on Twitter.

Indeed, technology watchers like Gartner and Morgan Stanley have predicted that mobile devices soon will overtake PCs as the preferred tool to connect to the Internet -- they just differ on whether that will happen by 2013 or 2015.

Currently, about a quarter of American adults get some of their news via cellphone, the Pew Research Center reported last month. It described the typical "on-the-go" news consumer as a 34-year-old white male, college-educated and earning a comfortable living ($75,000 or more for about a third of them). In addition to grabbing news from multiple sites, he also uses his phone to send text messages, take pictures, blog and tweet.

With such an eager consumer, newspapers would be foolish not to reach out via mobile devices, right? Here's an even more compelling reason: Mobile is expected to grow rapidly into a lucrative advertising vehicle.

Yesterday, Borrell Associates, a research firm that analyzes local advertising spending, called mobile "the new disruptor" in advertising and marketing, and predicted it will skyrocket to some $57 billion in spending by 2014 -- from $2.7 billion last year.

Mobile coupons, sent via text messages, already are showing promise, according to the company, citing the example of a restaurant in Texas that paid $37 to send out buy-one-get-one-free coupons for burgers and added $1,000 in incremental revenue daily. Borrell called coupons the first "killer app" for mobile.

Newspapers have always made money by delivering eyeballs to advertisers. With a mobile strategy, they'd link on-the-go news consumers with nearby businesses via smartphone.

To miss that opportunity would mean passing up needed revenue -- a point not lost on one observer at Idema's Yahoo presentation:  "Be afraid newspapers. They'll drink what's left of your milkshake," she tweeted.

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