Which emerging platforms should you bet on? New media futurist Shelly Palmer weighs in

Speaking with crackling, infectious New York energy yesterday at the Media in Canada Forum, TV guru Shelly Palmer expressed a decidedly contrarian view on - among other things - the value of advertising on mobile devices.

‘Don’t waste your money on any consumers who haven’t first told you, by responding to your invitations, online or otherwise, that you will be welcome on their cellphone or iPod or whatever,’ says the New York city-based Advanced Media Ventures MD. ‘Otherwise, they’ll just resent your intrusion into their lives.’

Corroborating Palmer’s contention, a new survey by Harris Interactive for Boston-based Enpocket mobile indicates that consumer receptivity to mobile ads is picking up. Some 1,200 respondents in the US, the UK and India were questioned, and about 80% of them generally approved of mobile advertising. The caveat? That the messages sent to them must be relevant to their interests. Interestingly, 68% said they’d be willing to disclose some personal information to improve the relevance of the ads they receive.

As the acknowledged inventor of Enhanced Television and the author of Television Disrupted: The Transition from Network to Networked TV, Palmer is definitely in the know. Yet he cautioned that, actually, no one including himself knows for sure where even the most promising emerging platforms will end up in the future.

As a glaring example, he cited the shocking failure of ESPN’s mobile broadcast division, which recently admitted losing US$150 million and calling it quits despite, as Palmer put it, ‘apparently doing everything right.’ Even rustling up 30,000 subscribers almost instantly wasn’t enough to avoid going belly up. Why? In Palmer’s estimation, one big negative is that battery technology hasn’t yet evolved sufficiently to handle the drain of feature-rich content. ‘And I promise you,’ he cracked, ‘the first time some 16-year-old misses a booty call on his cellphone because his battery died is the last time he watches something like ESPN on it.’

The other culprit Palmer blamed for killing off ESPN’s mobile broadcasts was that ‘there are just so many other ways to get wireless sports content today, who needs to pay $400 a month to get it?’ With that question, he segued into puncturing another popular balloon, i.e. that ‘me TV’ is a golden goose that’s about to pay off any minute now. Penetration of PVRs such as TiVo in the US stands at a mere 7-10% and is now believed to be on the decline. For that surprising fact he blames the lack of enthusiasm for switching to HD technology among broadcasters.

Palmer also called into question the popular notion that what consumers really want is to be able to access ‘anything, any time, anywhere, 24/7,’ saying that most people are receptive only in about four ‘zones’ of times and places that suit their individual lifestyles.

Despite his words of caution, Palmer was upbeat about other aspects of emerging platforms, especially those that capitalize on naturally evolving social networks such as MySpace. But he isn’t so keen on user-generated content, responding to a question from his rapt audience by warning that, ‘if you give a thousand cameras to a thousand (non-professional) photographers, you’ll probably get 1,000 crappy pictures.’ On the other hand, he said, CNN’s recent decision to supply all its reporters with high-quality camera cellphones so they can capture events as they’re happening, rather than when a broadcast truck manages to arrive on the scene, is ‘brilliant.’

What did Palmer cite as the key takeaway message from his point of view? ‘Simplicity. Whenever you’re thinking about online platforms, always remember that every extra mouse click and every extra screen a consumer has to go to will diminish your audience.’