The frictionless mobile media experience

The idle time in our lives presents a key media opportunity. Every time we wait for a meeting to start, a friend to arrive or a plane to leave, we take out our mobile device and expect to be immediately entertained and informed. A single smartphone delivers the potential to inform and entertain through games, news, social media and the like. So, from that perspective, a significant amount of friction has been eliminated.

“Friction” here simply refers to how much effort is required to access the content experience we desire. Much progress has been made: we all have a mobile device and a fast internet connection, and there are myriad apps and websites that are mobile-optimized. But we are now at the stage where the content we want should come to us -- without our having to search for it.

In mobile, the battle for consumer attention is the next frontier. While social has historically had the edge here, easily providing users with engaging content in the moments when they’re seeking distraction, there is still friction -- and plenty of room for better experiences.

The frictionless landscape: Who is addressing mobile friction today?

The key players innovating device friction come from four areas: content recommendation, O/S and OEMs, search and browser tech and device-centric innovators. Let’s take a closer look at each area:

  • Content recommendation: We are all familiar with native advertising/sponsored content providers like Taboola and Outbrain, who provide additional links to other stories that may (or may not) interest us partway through our current story. These firms work with publishers seeking to build audiences and endeavor to offer consumers a frictionless path between interesting stories. Understanding growth amongst publishers may be limited, these firms have begun to look at the mobile device. In the second quarter of 2018, Taboola announced a deal with the mobile device OEM ZTE to help users personalize the content on their phones with their technology. Moving from a simple world of working with digital publishers to a complex and ever-changing world of working with fragmented mobile device software, OEM implementations, security requirements, accessibility requirements and end-user support will be a major challenge for content recommendation firms, but the opportunity is clear.
  • O/S and OEMS: Google News and Apple News are preinstalled apps on Android and iOS devices. Both leverage device technology that makes it easier to access interesting content without having to actually click on the app. Consequently, both have shown tremendous growth in 2018. As consumers flocked to easier access to interesting content, these solutions posted big gains in referral traffic to content publishers.
  • Search and browser tech: In 2018, Google and Mozilla took significant steps to change how consumers use mobile media by reducing friction from the media. In May 2018, Mozilla integrated Pocket into its Firefox browser homepage. Instead of just looking at a search bar plus a history of sites a customer has visited, Firefox includes several story recommendations derived from Pocket. Customers can improve the content delivered to them by rating it. Pocket remembers what customers did not like and delivers that content less frequently or excludes it entirely. Not to be outdone by the much smaller, nonprofit Mozilla, on Sept. 24, 2018, Google Discover was launched, dramatically changing Google’s mobile landing page for the first time in the history of the company. The traditional austere search field we all know has been supplemented with a customizable news feed, in what looks like a straight-up Firefox/Pocket copy. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it took Google only four months to show it in its sincerest form.
  • Device-centric innovators: Several startups have focused on device software preinstalled on devices by top wireless carriers. With carrier scale, at least here in the US, this avenue also shows potential. Mobile Posse launched Firstly Mobile, a platform that integrates several native device experiences to seamlessly present curated content by swiping, opening a new webpage (similar to Google Discover) or even merely unlocking the device. On the other hand, this category saw the death of Unlockd, who took a somewhat more mercenary approach to the space, trading ad impressions with “benefits.”

What will frictionless mobile content look like in 2019?

O/S developers, browser platforms and telecom in conjunction with content recommendation or device-centric innovators will all expand the frictionless mobile content space in the year ahead. But in 2019, we will see movement in three specific areas.

Telecom takes hold: Look for new partnerships as OEMs continue to move, carriers like Verizon try to salvage their branded experiences, and other carriers like AT&T try to maximize theirs. It will be a big year!

Social loses ground: As trust in Facebook and other social platforms continues to deteriorate, opportunities for disruptive frictionless content companies will grow. Google News, Apple News, Pocket and other companies will fill the void that social leaves open.

The need for speed: With the arrival of 5G, there will be some scrambling, and for some companies, it’s smarter to buy than build. New relationships will be formed between carriers/OEMs and content delivery companies, mobile tech companies and other players. Some of the partnerships we see today may soon become acquisitions.

2019 will be an exciting year for frictionless mobile media -- get ready for some unexpected innovations and headlines in the year ahead.

Roger Entner is the Founder and Lead Analyst of Recon Analytics.

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