Joi goes to DoCoMo: Making Money from Mobile Content


This is awesome. Joi's running late, and ends up at a huge i-Mode 5th anniversary bash, sees Flash running on an i-Mode phone in person and digs the vibes of a pre-bubbleburst-sized party. Wow. And this while I'm sitting here in my underwear in Madrid commenting on why I think Spanish salaries suck and why Flash is "neat".


Excuse me while I vicariously enjoy this post for a minute, imagining I was actually doing something worth while with my professional life:

i-mode 4th anniversary party/panel

I went to work yesterday in a hurry yesterday, running late from blogging, not knowing what I was supposed to do that day other than I was supposed to be wearing a suit. I pulled a piece of paper out of my pocket after meeting with my accountant which told me I was supposed to go to the Tokyo International Forum center and meet Kenta. When I arrived, I was suddenly immersed in the i-mode of it all. It turns out that 5 of the i-mode council members were supposed to be on a panel to talk about how i-mode is changing society and where it goes next. It was the 4th anniversary of the launch of Docomo's i-mode, the widely popular Internet enabled phone.

Natsuno-san, who runs the i-mode project with the support of Enoki-san, his boss at Docomo, talked about the news phones including the new i-mode phone that will have fingerprint authentication built in. He also showed off flash running on the phones. The panel was short (1 hr for 5 people). I did get to admit to everyone that when Natsuno-san came to me with the idea that NTT Docomo would make an Internet phone over 4 years ago, I told him that I thought that there would be no way it would be successful. I thought that NTT would not embrace an open platform and that technically it was pretty sketchy. Well, I was wrong. NTT Docomo did, for maybe the first time in NTT history, embrace outside content providers and the sketchy technology turned out to be simple and much more easy for people to implement than WAP and took off.

There were about 2000 people, all content providers. Most making money. That's impressive. i-mode is probably one of the ONLY Internet platforms in the world where the content providers are actually making money from monthly fees from users rather than advertising.

The party was probably the most expensive-looking and BIG party I've been to since the bubble days. There were jugglers, guys on stilts playing huge saxaphones, lots and lots of food, plasma displays all over the place, art, etc. EVERYONE was there. Schmooze was in the air. The NTT Docomo exec team has special business cards printed for the event with special assistants following them around with a box of name cards as they went around and greeted their guests. Yup. Reminds you of the good old days. ;-p

All in all, it was a nice celebration for one of the few industries in the IT space doing well in Japan right now. For now...

To make this post seem somewhat newsworthy, I'll add to the idea that mobile content is making people money by pointing out this new Business Week article:

Wireless Surprise: In Japan and Korea, mobile content is making money

Keisuke Hashimoto is a cell-phone addict. But it's not voice calls that keep him glued to his handset. What really has him hooked are the data services available on his phone. One gives him access to his e-mail when he's on the move, another lets him check train and subway timetables. When he's traveling, his handset becomes a videophone so he can both see and talk to his wife and kids. When he's lost, he downloads maps that can pinpoint his location and help him navigate Tokyo's maze of streets. And when he has a few minutes of downtime, he plays online games and downloads songs. His total monthly bill: about $85. "I can't imagine life without it," says Hashimoto, a 35-year-old consultant and newsletter publisher.

That's music to the ears of a new group of Japanese and Korean companies that have sprung up on the frontier of the mobile Internet. Never heard of Cybird, Index, Xing, or Com2uS? No matter. These upstarts are seeing fantastic growth as 60 million Japanese and 16 million Koreans regularly use them to log on to 63,000 commercial Web sites and 2.3 million personal home pages designed for small phone screens and wireless connections. And they're expanding to Europe, the U.S., and other points in Asia.

The wireless Web? Wasn't its obituary written way back in 2000? True, mobile Internet services haven't exactly been a ringing success in North America, where most adults use their cell phones to do one thing: make phone calls. And three years ago, Europe's move to the mobile Net -- using a technology called wireless application protocol -- stumbled badly. Even today, European carriers are struggling to come up with high-speed data services that customers will pay for.

Yet Japanese and Koreans have multimedia phones outfitted with digital cameras, crystal-clear screens, and serviceable speakers -- and they're using them. Japan's three mobile carriers made $9.9 billion in data-traffic revenue last year, up 62% from 2001. SK Telecom Co. (SKM ), Korea's largest cellular operator, saw data traffic nearly triple, to $611 million, last year. "Japan and Korea are amazing," says Dylan Williams, head of operations for Black Octopus, a Hong Kong-based mobile content provider. "That's where all the content innovation is happening."

The key to this new service: entertainment. Young people in Tokyo, Osaka, Seoul, and Busan can't seem to get enough of services such as Hello Kitty screen savers (80 cents each), karaoke songs with lyrics that bounce across the screen ($1.70 per session), and personalized ringtones that can sound like anything from Frosty the Snowman to the latest Avril Lavigne hit ($2.50 for a dozen). With their camera phones, users can scan a restaurant's bar code from a magazine, then click on a link to book a table -- with a free bottle of wine thrown in. Others are buying skirts, dresses, and perfume. "Content providers need to make money, and the best way to do that in the beginning is with fun and games," says Giles Richter, an American who co-founded Mobile Media Japan, which helps companies develop mobile content.


Ahh, very interesting. Another in a long line of "look what they're doing in Japan. that's coming our way soon!" articles, but these are reaching a fever pitch lately as the telecoms and manufacturers get of their butts here in the West and give us decent mobile tech. But content... hmmmm. I guess a lot of us are just thinking we'll slap some mobile pages on the web stuff that's already out there, but that's probably not the case. More thoughts on this later.

Okay, back to dreaming about being a player at an i-Mode launch party... ;-)


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