User generated content – my new addiction!

As anybody in the digital media world knows, nothing is as hot as user generated content these days. I for one, had been slightly skeptical about why people would pay to watch grainy, out of focus videos of some drunk guy singing to his mates, or some supposedly funny fake gag. However, much to my own horror, I find myself a user generated video junkie today!

It all started on the day O2 finally activated my O2 Active. Browsing through their deck, I came acorss a link called LookatMe! What’s this I thought and jumped right in. It said “We’ve got some of the coolest videos and they’ve been created by people like you on thier mobile. Some are earning serious cash in the process! Think you can do better?”. Below this was a preview image of a video with a “buy for 35p” link and a “vote link”. 35 pence, I thought, that’s nothing, let me check it out. Clicked on buy and in a few seconds I was watching a dude in white trying to do slam dunks for about 50 seconds. It wasn’t particularly funny or well shot. The point however is that it was priced so low that I didn’t mind ending up with a lemon. So I clicked back to the home page and found a few search categories -most watched, most recent, by same contributor- and randomly downloaded a few more videos. Some funny, some really bad, some downright bizzare.

In a couple of hours I found myself back on the same page, downloading more videos. Soon, everytime I had some time to kill I was shelling out 35p for some vidoes. Before I knew it I was hooked and then I asked myself just why I was so hooked on downloading mostly bad videos. Two thing struck me – 1. Humans are fundamentally voyeurs. We like to peek into other people’s lives; like a fly on the wall, observing unobtrusively. 2. We are all suckers for low price points, low price points encourage impulse purchsases

LookatMe has got their model right! Low price points are sustainable because of volumes and not having to pay hefty content publisher or rights owner revenue shares.

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O2 active – am I rich enough to download?

So I finally managed to activate GPRS on my O2 phone and was very excited about checking out O2 Active, the operator’s home portal. The portal looked rather plain and lacked “the look”, but I figured the design was functional and that was more important than cool looks. The categories were all standard and and pages loaded really fast. So the browsing experience was far better than anything I’d experienced before, either in the US or in India.

What shocked me though was just how expensive mobile content downloading was (leaving aside data charges). All the games listed under games arcade were retailing at £5.00. Moreover, there were no previews, no trials, only a text description of the game, followed by the option of clicking “buy” and getting charged £5.00. Hmm, interesting! I’m paying £5.00 and I don’t even know what I’m getting. Any wonder operators and game publishers are crying about mobile game sales stagnating and % of game users remaining low (despite fervent denials of any such thing from the big boys of game publishing!). Just imagine how many more browsers will convert to purchasers if they could trial the game before purchasing it, or if they could “rent” it at a lower price point. I would bet on an increase in conversion of at least 30%, if not more.

It wasn’t just games that were expensive. Wallpapers, standard celebrity wallpapers and even some really crappy non-celebrity ones were going for £2.00, ringtones for £2.50 and truetones for £3.50. Way too expensive for mostly ‘not so hot’ content.

The one big surprise though was that video was priced so low! Most video clips, typically from TV shows and comedy clips, retailed at only £0.75, which was great. I did not even think twice before downloading videos at that price point. I’m not sure whether the low price point of video is because O2 is trying to promote video downloads or whether revenue share agreements or rights acquisiton costs allow videos to be retailed so low. The important point though is that the price point is low enough for impulse purchase, which is key to driving volumes and getting more people hooked to content downloading .

I’m hoping O2 and the other operators crack the pricing conundrum soon.

Different country, same story – My heroic GPRS enablement saga

So here I am in the UK, supposedly one of the most advanced mobile content markets in the world. I ordered myself an O2 contract phone (Nokia 6230i) online, and was assured that to activate GPRS all I needed to do was call the helpline and ask them to activate it.

As soon as I got my phone last Wednesday, I called O2’s helpline and asked for my GPRS to be activated. The woman at the call centre took down my phone number and a few other details and said that I would receive an SMS with the settings for GPRS. Thank you very much, simple enough! After waiting for an hour and no SMS in sight, I called again and went through the same process. Still no SMS. Finally, I decided to check the O2 website and found a simple form which needed to fill out to get the settings on my phone. As soon as I filled in the form and hit submit, the much awaited SMS finally arrived. Great going I thought, and opened the SMS and went though the instructions to instal the settings on my phone. Everything went smoothly and the settings were indeed installed. Sadly though, when I tried to access O2’s home site, I was told that GPRS was not available for this connection.

Many calls to customer support followed, bulky documents were emailed to me and many experiments were made. GPRS remained elusive still. Completely frustrated by now, I walked into an O2 store today hoping my problem will be solved. Two store assistants came by one after the other and simply said that I need to talk to their customer support. They were kind enough to call customer support and hand the receiver to me. Thrice I was informed that I had got through to the wrong department and was transfered to some other call centre agent. As I was getting ready to leave and throw my phone into the Thames, a senior person, presumably the store manager walked upto me and asked if he could help. I wanted to say, “most definitely, please show me the way to the river”, but instead explained my problem to him. He said “please come with me sir”, much like a police inspector leading you to detention room and called up a number from his phone, which I suspect was a hotline to the GPRS god. A 30 second conversation followed during which he gave my phone number to the GPRS god and I was told that GPRS was now active and handed back my phone with a flourish. In a feverish daze I fumbled and clicked on the “web” button on my phone and MAGIC, there it was ,the O2 Active home page!!!

What on earth is going on? Why can’t Operators/ handset vendors preconfigure phone for internet access? Especially given that O2 and other operators in the UK charge per kb of data usage and not a monthly data subscription like other markets. The next time I’m asked what needs to be done to increase mobile content revenue revenue, I’m just going to grab the fellows phone and throw it into the river!

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