There is a belief, held by many, that there is a bright future for ad-supported or subsidized mobile services. Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt floated this idea as far back as November 2006. Now, the long-delayed Blyk in the U.K is live and MySpace in the U.S. has announced an ad-supported model (and a richer subscription model) for a mobile version of its application in an effort to attract usage.
Blyk is a mobile operator aimed at 16-24 year olds and will offer a limited number of free, ad-supported minutes and text messages. According to the site:
When you join Blyk you get a free SIM with 217 free texts and 43 free minutes, to any UK network. Sounds good? Well it gets better, because every month Blyk refills this SIM and, like magic, your free balance returns to 217 texts and 43 free minutes.
If you want to text or talk more than that, you can top-up at 10p/text and 15p/minute.
Virgin Mobile has had a similar experiment going on in the U.S. since last year. Free minutes are earned by looking at or interacting with ads. I’m unaware of how this has performed, but it clearly hasn’t set the world on fire.
There’s varying data on user attitudes toward and acceptance of mobile advertising. The Blyk offering is aimed at a segment that is likely to be more receptive to the model and willing to watch (or pretend to pay attention) to the ads than older or business users.
Earlier this year Ingenio released mobile survey data (collected by Harris), involving approximately 4,000 U.S. adults, showing that a majority of consumers (70 percent) could not remember having seen (or heard) mobile ads within the past year. For the 30 percent of mobile users who had received a promotional message or ad of some sort, a full 95 percent either deleted the ad or ignored it. By contrast, 5 percent took some sort of action.
But there’s other data that argues users are receptive to “relevant” ads on their mobile phones.
Postscript: In a related story appearing in the New York Times, a company called Pudding Media is going to offer free, ad-subsidized calling via the Internet (like Skype), using technology to eavesdrop and offer contextually relevant ads based on the content of the conversation. Think of it as like what Google is doing with text ads in Gmail. However, this seems quite a bit more intrusive. But the company, according to the article, says it is not collecting data on individuals. Eventually, the company will extend the technology to mobile phones.