Industry veteran Lucy Hood: Mobile has evolved beyond the mobisode
with Lucy Hood, executive director, Institute of Communications Technology Management
Lucy Hood has worn a variety of hats during her career in mobile content. Before joining the University of Southern California as the head of USC's Institute for Communication Technology Management, she was president of Fox Mobile Entertainment and senior vice president of News Corporation. Her team at Fox Mobile was responsible for launching American Idol's texting initiative, and she was nominated for an Emmy for her work on mobisodes--TV for mobile. Hood recently talked with Fierce about the importance of innovation and her predictions for the industry in 2011.
FierceMobileContent: In 2009, you joined the CTM Institute of Communications after working for Fox Mobile Entertainment and News Corporation, among others. What made you decide to switch to academia, and how is your position now different from what you were previously doing?
Hood: Well it's quite a change, moving from working for Rupert Murdoch at News Corp to academia, but I'd always been interested in the strategic future development of the mobile business, and I thought after a very exciting time founding and building Fox Mobile that this was a different vantage point, but that this was one that was just as important and just as powerful.
At CTM, we are really a unique strategic think tank, and what we do is look at consumer behavior and the business models and sector development that underline that. So we do a digital home survey and look at smartphone usage, and we do that around the world.
FierceMobileContent: Your team at Fox was responsible for introducing text messaging to broadcast TV, specifically through American Idol. What factors do you think led to the success of that initiative?
Hood: Well I think what we did at Fox in 2001 and 2002 was we really had our ear to the ground about what was happening around the world in mobile. It's clear that text messaging and text messaging driven by television could be quite successful, particularly in the U.K. So we really observed what was going on in that market and thought it would work in the U.S. We were experimenting with a lot of different types of interactivity, and obviously text messaging on American Idol is the one that truly stuck and truly succeeded.
FierceMobileContent: Do you think it is possible to have a successful television and wireless partnership with a show that isn't a commercial success?
Hood: It's challenging for a wireless initiative to be driven by a show that is not widely seen. For example, when I was at Fox there was a very small show called Todd TV and you could text in and help Todd choose between different options in his life. One was, would you like to speak to your mother or your psychiatrist, which was pretty funny. Our joke, though, was that more people sent texts than watched the show, and the show got cancelled pretty quickly. The problem is that the mobile initiative still can't drive the success or economics of a show, whereas the other way around that can happen.
FierceMobileContent: I've read in some of your other interviews that you think that industry players need to focus less on monetization and more on innovation. Why do you think that's a key to succeeding in this industry?
Hood: Well, I think the consumer ecosystem, if you will, is evolving so rapidly, and it is really an interplay between devices, apps and people and what we as consumers want. So, you can't just focus on ARPU, on how to get more dollars out of a consumer's pocket. You have to give them an engaging, enabling experience that makes them want to increase their activity and usage. And then the business results will fall pretty naturally.
FierceMobileContent: Can you think of some current examples of how you've seen that play out?
Hood: I think that both iPhone and Android phones are pretty successful at enabling the consumer experience. Obviously the iPhone's launch in 2007 was a revelation in terms of usability for smartphones and that's been really powerful. We're seeing it again now in tablets and interestingly USC CTM is predicting that there will be tablets in a fourth of American homes in 2012, and we think that's because for a lot of people this may become their primary computing device. It's a really important secondary device in addition to a phone that enables a lot of their activities.
FierceMobileContent: You also helped establish the first mobisodes--video specifically designed for mobile. Can you talk a little about that project?
Hood: Well what was exciting about creating the mobisodes was that it was a really close collaboration between producers, actually the producers of 24, the hit TV show, the Fox network and then our mobile partners, who were Verizon and Vodafone. It was clear that there was some need for exciting video content. So we saw that need and then identified the idea of creating one minute mobisodes which were mobile episodes of 24. They had different actors and a different story but all in the theme of 24. So we had a lot of fun of that. And well over a million of them were seen around the world.
FierceMobileContent: Why haven't we seen more success from mobile TV?
Hood: I think that you can't design TV specifically for mobile anymore. I think people view smartphones and tablets as enablers to get their entertainment. They are less concerned with the actual device and more concerned with the experience. Now the experience can be really great on an iPad or I have [and watch TV on] an HTC Evo 4G. You get a great entertainment experience on it, but it's not [something you think about]. I don't think to myself ‘Hey I'm watching mobile TV.' I think, ‘I'm watching YouTube' or ‘I'm watching Hulu.' So what the mobile industry has to continue to concentrate on is delivering a really premier entertainment experience on whichever device a consumer is using.
FierceMobileContent: What predictions do you have for 2011 in advancements in digital content and digital corporate strategy?
Hood: For the rest of 2011 there are many changes that I think will really drive our business. One is continued, rapid, even explosive sales of hot new devices. So clearly smartphones will continue to grow and tablets will grow even faster. They are fueled not just by young tech early adopters, but also groups like African Americans and Latinos who are very interested in tablets as a primary computing device. Secondly, we'll see an evolution of continued app development: more and better apps, more and better discovery mechanisms for finding those apps. And we'll also see an evolution towards browsing as the browsing experience becomes better. For example, via 4G it's a much more successful experience. And finally, there's an increased need for partnership, partnerships between YouTube and Facebook and movie companies, Alcatel and Cisco, with a lot of different companies who you wouldn't expect, Qualcomm and the health field. Many, many companies are reaching across the aisle to new businesses that they find extremely powerful for their consumers, but they can't go at it alone. They need partnerships with experts in those areas, and understanding how to partner effectively is something that we work on at USC CTM.