Mobile phones have become content discovery devices - and that’s among their most important functions in our everyday lives. They’re with us nearly every moment of the day, so we rely on them for content even more than our TVs and radios. We get our news, weather, sports scores and stock prices from our phones. When we’re bored, we look to them for entertainment.
This is nothing new - in fact, we’re in the fifth era of content discovery on mobile. The shift hasn’t been so much in our behavior as our means of getting that content. To summarize our history of mobile content discovery, here’s a brief guide:
Era 1: Via WAP (ca. 2000)
Era 2: On smartphones (ca. 2007)
Era 3: Via apps (ca. 2008)
Era 4: Via unlimited data plans (ca. 2016)
Era 5: Via device AI and UI (today)
Note that with each era, speeds have increased while friction has decreased - thus facilitating easier content discovery.
When mobile phones were first used to discover content, the carriers were king. The carriers had their own portals, which they even opened to non-subscribers as a way to entice them to switch over. However, changes in publishing tools (from WAP to WEB), in the way we use our phones (switching from mobile browsers to apps) and changes in data speeds drove the early shifts in how we discovered mobile content.
By the Fourth Era, data plan pricing changes had created an entirely new use case for the mobile device. As big data plans have become increasingly more accessible, the handset has in lockstep become more of a content discovery device than a phone - and that has led to the creation of new phone UI, UX and AI functionality by carriers, OEMs and O/S developers.
That brings us to the dawn of the Fifth Era - where we are today. This next wave creates both a huge challenge and a huge opportunity for carriers in particular. How can they make sure their investment in the next wave of infrastructure disproportionately creates new profits for themselves and not others - like Google and Facebook?
Here are the trends that will mark the next shift that carriers will have to navigate.
#1: The device becomes more important
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Always-on consumers are now reliant on their phones to find content, whether it’s information they need or just something to pass the time while they wait for the train. However, today, the phone itself doesn’t make it easy to find that content. Users will swipe and tap and type into search bars, or open Facebook or a news app to find what they’re looking for. Moving forward, the phone’s UI will incorporate machine learning to understand what the user wants and serve up that content automatically. The content served will be tailored to the user, and discovery will be completely friction free.
#2: The carrier will become more important
Particularly if they take some ownership of the user interface. Taking the friction out of content discovery is a critical part of winning the Fifth Era, and carriers have an unprecedented opportunity to take the lead here. Just as they owned the portals of the past, they can have a hand in making content discoverability enjoyable and friction-free moving forward. Carriers know more about how we use our phones and what we like than we do. They have data about our usage and everything we do with our phones, and they can use that data to make our mobile experiences exponentially more personalized, convenient, useful and entertaining. By owning the discoverability of tailored-to-us content, making search simpler, creating more “snackable” content experiences and increasing access to the media we love, carriers make themselves a beloved and important part of mobile lives - rather than the “necessary evil” we perceive them as today. To lead into the next trend, they have the ability to deliver to us more engaging and personalized content than Facebook - and we wouldn’t even have to open an app to find it.
#3: Facebook will become less important to publishers
As content discovery becomes a friction-free affair, users will become less reliant on Facebook to serve them engaging content, particularly if the carriers step up. If the device itself is delivering great content without users having to search for it, publishers will be free to seek different distribution channels for their content. If the carriers themselves own those content discovery venues, that opens the possibility of new partnerships and new revenue streams for publishers - and perhaps a shift away from the current Google/Facebook duopoly.
As we shift to this new era of mobile content discovery, the carriers have the most to gain. The reduction or removal of friction has been the catalyst for the transformation of so many other industries, and mobile content is the next in line. Media fiction exists in four forms: accessibility, discovery, search and snackability (the ability to consume media quickly, in short, satisfying snippets). There are many ways to attack friction in the content discovery process: voice devices, social networks, content recommendation engines and next-gen mobile interfaces are all addressing it from different angles.
However, given mobile’s popularity, the device itself may have the biggest impact. Serving personalized content to mobile users from the UI itself seems the most obvious route to a great experience, and the carriers have a head start. Here’s hoping 2019 brings us all entertaining and friction-free content in the moments we need it most!