Content suppliers get busy signal in Singapore

Easier handsets, compelling services expected to boost users

SINGAPORE — If Southeast Asia is to follow Japan and South Korea’s lead, telcos have been expecting Singapore’s high penetration of next-generation mobile phones (3G) to translate into early adoption of content services.

But the three telcos here — Mobile One, SingTell and StarHub — are guarded about take-up, suggesting can-do doesn’t necessarily mean will-do for mobile users when it comes to receiving content on their phones or other handheld devices.

StarHub’s senior veep of marketing and content Tham Loke Kheng says, somewhat enigmatically, “Customer response has been consistent with our expectations.”

But she thinks more user-friendly handsets, plus more compelling services will boost take-up.

“We recognize that the mobile content industry has only just begun, so we are very positive about the future, and music is already a major element of mobile content,” Kheng says. “Singapore has all the pieces in place — factors such as its high mobile penetration rate, the presence of a powerful payment infrastructure as well as very savvy users.”

StarHub scored a goal thanks to its link up with the English Premier League soccer, “enabling our 2G and 3G mobile users to access exclusive EPL-related multimedia content on their handsets,” says Tham. “For example, we localized the Barclays EPL mobile content by producing a local EPL commentary complete with weekly pre-match analysis, predictions and post-match analysis.”

While customer take-up may be slow, that hasn’t stopped content providers from setting up shop.

MTV Networks Asia has deals with various telcos across Asia, but the aim seems to be more about branding than revenues.

“Our commercial contracts with these partners include both flat fee and revenue share and have been fairly successful in reaching the consumer and developing a larger distribution platform in Asia,” says a spokesman.

Discovery has been providing mobile content in Asia since 2004, according to senior veep of new media business development Tanya Field. “We are exploring synergies between Discovery Mobile content and original programming in the region … like ‘5 Takes,’ a new travel reality series that lets viewers craft the itineraries of five travelers.”

Turner Intl. Asia Pacific’s veep for Greater China and Wireless Development, Ringo Chan, says it has partnerships with wireless mobile operators in most Asian markets.

“Consumers need more time to get used to the technology and know what their handset can deliver them,” he says. “So it’s up to the handset manufacturer, the content provider and the operator to figure out the best way to distribute and promote the compelling new content out there — and to stimulate the market as a result.”