dab digital radio mobile

Broadcast Asia (Part 1) – The Future of Advertising?

I was at Broadcast Asia last week, so I’m going to be doing some posts this week about interesting things I saw there. I was primarily there to do a presentation with James on the good and bad things about DAB in the UK, but there was plenty to see at Broadcast Asia and in Singapore generally.

The business of building mobile phone networks appears to be extremely competitive. Last year Nokia and Siemens agreed to merge their two network businesses to create a supplier to rival Lucent/Alcatel, and they were exhibiting for the first time as joint entity at Broadcast Asia. (The branding was more Nokia inspired than Siemens, but that’s probably a good thing).

You would expect a network provider to feature hardware pretty heavily on their stand, and so they did (more to follow on the technology known as MBMS). However, rather unexpectedly there was a pod dedicated to explaining a new network technology aimed at inserting advertising into mobile internet browsing.

My initial thoughts were “oh no, the pop-up comes to mobile”, and certainly the host of the pod was very enthusiastic about the possibilities of injecting advertising, on a targeted basis, into people’s mobile browsing. Given the pressure on margins for the hardware, and the seemingly endless enthusiasm for the advertising model, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise to see such an idea from Nokia Siemens.

On reflection, not only is it an unwelcome idea (from a pure irritation point of view), I think it could be absolutely fatally flawed and call into question some principles that ISPs and Telecoms providers have held very very dear for a long time.

The principle of Common Carrier allows telecoms networks (fixed and mobile) to claim indemnity from the content that they carry – in simple terms, they can’t get into trouble if I send you some content that’s illegal. Whilst that occasionally gets tested at the boundaries, the principle is fairly solid, and it’s what differentiates a Carrier from a Publisher.

But this idea to inject advertising dangerously muddies the waters for the telecoms companies. How can they claim to be a passive carrier of data when they start to actively inspect it in order to insert advertising? And if they start to inspect the content in order to deliver context sensitive advertising, that surely puts them in a very dangerous position of “knowing” what they’re carrying?

What would happen if this idea was applied to DAB Digital Radio networks? The radio station gets a discounted/free transmission network, but now the transmission provider is injecting their own ads in at the transmitter to pay for the network. I’m not sure many radio companies would take that idea seriously – selling their adverts knowing that someone else is going to be inserting adverts too.

I suspect this idea won’t get implemented. Aside from the very fundamental problem of potentially making the network liable for everything that gets passed over it, it will also probably break all those lovely Web 2.0 / AJAX sessions, which will annoy users almost as much as random adverts popping up everywhere. I just remain amazed at how these ideas can get as far as a public exhibition.

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