MMS Soars into a Brick Wall

Mike GrenvilleÌs excellent 160 Characters reports on some of the latest trends on MMS. It makes gruesome reading.

The NOP poll found that 83% of respondents had yet to send an MMS.

It also has some stats on MMS usage in 2003:

∑ France 23 Million
∑ Germany 37 Million
∑ Italy 20 Million
∑ Spain 17 Million
∑ Sweden 5 Million
∑ Switzerland 450,000
∑ UK 27 Million

While these numbers may look impressive, in the UK context, 27 million a year compares to over 2 billion SMSÌs a MONTH.

ThereÌs a number of problems with MMS in my view:

1. ItÌs expensive. Many of the MMSÌs above were actually sent during the free trial periods offered by operators.

2. It often doesnÌt work and users are often required to manually change the settings on their phone. And they donÌt know how.

3. ItÌs a technology looking for a use.

IÌll expand on point 3 a little. While itÌs sometimes possible to invent a technology and find an application for it (Post It Notes spring to mind) itÌs not normally a winning strategy.

But this is where many analysts and Operators are going wrong. They see camera phone sales = consumer desire to send pictures = acceptance of consumer to premium pricing of MMS = huge surge in data revenues = telecoms boom.

I wrote in my blog a few months ago about this phenomenon, comparing it with South Park’s Underpants Gnomes. They spend their lives stealing peoples’ underwear.

Tracked back to their lair, we find the Gnomes with a huge pile of err….Stolen Underpants. Challenged to justify this, they show a large chart on which is outlined their strategy (see below). The key to this strategy they say, is to identify what the question mark represents – “then it’s untold wealth all round”


1. Collect Underpants
2. ?
3. Profit


Another flawed formulae is:

ability to make video phones = consumer desire to make video calls = acceptance of consumer to premium pricing of data traffic = huge surge in data revenues = telecoms boom.

People have compared SMS with MMS as being like DOS was to Windows. Apart from being an obvious overclaim, a better example would be Text based email to HTML email. WeÌve had the latter for years, but apart from formatting the appearance of the email and/or forwarding HTML email thatÌs already composed, most people never use it.

It comes down to usability. The requirement to compose an HTML email or an MMS which includes pictures, text and maybe audio is beyond the artistic skill of the average user. Moreover, even if they can do it, it would require a considerable investment of time.

So if I were in charge of implementing the strategy for MMS (a potential poisoned chalice, but I can dream), IÌd do the following:

1. Make sure every handset worked Ïout of the boxÓ. I know itÌs not easy, but neither is this impossible.

2. Make sure that we had cross network compatibility. If youÌre going to send a message, it has to arrive. No excuses.

3. Develop a range of content, readily available and FREE that people could use to quickly compose their MMS. Most operators try to Ïdouble bubbleÓ by charging for content and then charging you to send it. Come on guys, thatÌs just greedy!

4. Drop the price. 35p (OK O2 have just generously introduced a 25p tariff Ò more than double what an SMS costs on the most expensive tariff). 10 Ò 15p seems reasonable for a premium content message. 25 Ò 35p is that greed thing again.

5. Give 1,000 or so handsets to the coolest kids and give them free MMS messaging.

Having then lit the touch paper, you see it start to take off. But will an Operator adopt a marketing-led strategy? Excuse me, must sign off Ò thereÌs a pig flying past my window 🙂

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