Last week many Americans got their first chance to sign up for the next wireless data technology, thanks to the rollout of Verizon's 3G (third-generation) mobile system that makes cell phones more comparable to miniature computers. Verizon's VCast service, which debuted Feb. 1, can deliver video clips, TV content and 3-D games to mobile phones in Verizon's broadband network.
VCast, for instance, will offer up to 300 daily updated videos, including news clips from NBC, music videos from MTV and "mini-episodes" from 20th Century Fox, including those for the TV series 24.
Broadband phones ramp up the cellular opportunities that are being increasingly explored by marketers like ATT Wireless, with its sponsorship of American Idol; Major League Baseball, Masterfoods, Nike, McDonald's, Kellogg, Warner Brothers and Anheuser-Bush.
"This is creating all sorts of new opportunities for marketers to communicate in out-of-home environments," said Brian Wieser, vp, director of industry analysis at Interpublic Group's Magna Global USA. "You'll see advertisers become more involved. They can do things like use coupons for p-o-p and applications where if you get near a billboard, your phone will say SMS [short message service or texting] to get more info about a promotion."
Wieser added that sponsored ring tones might also provide marketing opportunities.
While the U.S. lags behind Asia and parts of Europe in offering 3G mobile to consumers, Verizon—the country's largest mobile carrier—leads its rival American carriers. Verizon launched the service in San Diego and Baltimore in 2003, but is now expanding it to more than 75 million consumers in 32 metropolitan markets. That number is expected to double this year, said a representative. He said it's too soon to know how many people are signing up, and Verizon does not issue forecasts. He downplayed 3G's marketing potential—not surprisingly, since Verizon is charging customers $15 a month for the service—focusing instead on its potential as a portable media device.
"This is not an advertising service as formulated—we don't view it as an advertising opportunity," he said. "This is streaming video, like what you'd find on cable or DSL. As a result of our rollout, we've heard from major U.S. and global content providers who want to be part of the deck."
3G has broader implications for the media world as well.
"Once these phones have hard drives in them, there will be tons of potential for pre-recorded music and you can download headlines, weather, traffic reports, etcetera," said Tom Wolzine, a media and communications strategist at Sanford Bernstein & Co. "You could have your own playlist interspersed with specific information and advertising. It's like having your own personalized radio in your pocket."