October 19, 2007


By Hisham Isa, Vice President (Marketing)

Over the past year, BuzzCity has received a lot of mail from advertisers – particularly US and European companies – that want to target mobile consumers in the UK. We probably receive at least one new enquiry every week.

And frankly, I’ve been at a loss as to why advertisers were so keen.

You see, there’s a fair amount of mobile internet traffic on the portals of telecom carriers like Vodafone and Orange, but off-portal traffic to third party sites is pretty slim. And without sufficient mobile traffic, it’s difficult for companies like ours to service advertiser requests.

INTERNET BOOMNow, though, after spending a few days with internet marketers at the AdTech conference in London, I get it. There’s tremendous enthusiasm in the UK for online marketing and this is spilling over to the mobile space.

• Britain’s top media brands – BBC, Daily Telegraph, Guardian, The Independent, Playboy, The Sun and The Times – are increasingly investing time, cash and energy to digitalise their offerings.

• More and more interactive ad agencies are specialising in internet search.

• UK businesses are conducting more mobile campaigns, though these are primarily SMS or WAP push.

The biggest piece of news, though, is that last year, for the first time, UK advertisers spent more on the internet than they did in newspapers. In fact, the UK internet ad spend jumped 40 percent from a year earlier to top 2 billion pounds. This year, market analysts expect the ad spend to top 2.7 billion pounds. That’s definitely not a paltry sum.

WHERE’S THE MOBILE MARKET?With such impressive turnover in the fixed line internet market, advertisers expect mobile internet use in the UK to be high as well.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality yet.

One problem is that it’s still difficult for British mobile phone users to surf outside the portal of their mobile carrier. You need to make a request first and there are a lot of configuration issues. Then, if you do figure out how to access third-party sites, watch out for the high data charges. Furthermore, from an advertiser’s perspective, banner ads have yet to penetrate the UK mobile market.

On the positive side, the British carriers are starting to educate their users about mobile surfing. Vodafone, for example, enables customers to edit MySpace pages from a phone. And Orange is selling widgets for services like instant messaging and mapping.

BuzzCity currently serves more than 5 million ad impressions per month in the UK and this figure is growing at a rate of about 10 percent a month. The UK myGamma community has 13,000 users, with about 500+ joining the ranks every month.

Beyond our own data, there are no readily available figures for the UK mobile ad spend. This might be because the market is too small or perhaps because most of the ad dollars are going to operator portals. There are numbers though for the number of British users who access the web from a mobile device: 15 million per month.

Social networking is huge in the UK and many believe these sites will be the main driver behind mobile internet usage. Nearly 4 in 5 surfers belong to a social networking community. And the average British surfer spends 5.8 hours per month on Facebook, mySpace, Bebo, etc - about double the time spent by surfers in Germany and triple that of French users.

All the major social networking sites are moving into the mobile space. mySpace has tied up with Vodafone. Bebo has a contract with Orange. Facebook, though, is moving beyond the carriers by launching a mobile site that is accessible to all. One reviewer writes:

"What’s great about the site is the way it focuses on the key bits of information and content that you might want to access on the go – you can tell someone’s thought hard about how and why someone might use Facebook on their phone."

Most industry observers argue that the spillover of social networking sites like Facebook into the mobile space and the introduction of flat rate pricing are the most important changes needed to foster the growth of the mobile internet.

At BuzzCity, though, we don't believe that web brands translate well into WAP. So while we're pleased to see companies like Facebook offering off-portal services, we don't expect these to be a main driver of the industry.
As for flat rate pricing, UK carriers are now offering 1GB or so of bandwidth at fairly reasonable rates. T-mobile's "web and walk" service, for example, costs 7.5 pounds per month. Half a million consumers have signed up.

Now, media providers need to make more and more content available via WAP. Content attracts users and users attract advertisers. The publishers and content providers that we spoke with during the recent AdTech conference in London tell us that they are developing WAP sites. But it will likely be another 9 – 12 months before we really see more WAP activity and a significant up-tick in the UK mobile space.

(Note: The photo of British mobile phone users was taken earlier this year for The Daily Mail.)