The telecom and Internet industries are colliding head-on in competition for control of the consumer mobile search business.
Telecom carriers, handset manufacturers, publishers, directory and yellow pages companies, Silicon Valley giants and a gaggle of start-ups are squaring off to contend for the title of mobile search champion. Each is trying to convince marketers that it is the natural inheritor of mobile search.
"Mobile search is a battle to define perhaps the most important new interface with the consumer," says John du Pre Gauntt, eMarketer Senior Analyst and the author of the new report, Mobile Search: Clash of the Titans. "Whoever cracks the consumer and commercial code for delivering and monetizing relevant answers for people on the go will secure a license to print money, at least for a time."
Depending on a researcher's particular bias toward telecom, Web or technology factors, the published forecasts for mobile search vary from $1.5 billion by 2011 (from Informa Telecoms Media) to over $11 billion by 2008 (according to Piper Jaffray).
eMarketer forecasts that the general mobile ad spending market - along with ad spending that supports mobile multimedia - should reach over $13.8 billion worldwide during the same period.
Of that total, mobile search is expected to account for 17%.
Altogether, eMarketer projects that the global market for mobile search will approach $2.4 billion by 2011.
"While in absolute terms that figure is not earth-shattering, compared with the online search market, let alone mobile content categories such as messaging, the fact is that mobile search carries with it the promise of radically changing how users access other, far larger content and commerce categories," says Mr. Gauntt. "In that sense, the impact of mobile search goes far beyond its specific industry opportunity."
Regardless of its relatively small size, mobile will continue to attract investment and talent because it is one the best platforms for connecting marketers to consumers with short-term or immediate purchase intent.
For instance, Informa predicts that global mobile entertainment sales will reach over $38 billion by 2011. Of that market, the top three subcategories are music ($13.6 billion by 2011), mobile video and TV ($8.3 billion) and mobile games ($7.2 billion).
"The days when mobile search need only organize a mobile carrier's content retail store are rapidly drawing to a close," says Mr. Gauntt. "Too much money, talent and technology are moving into the mobile marketing space to expect that users, let alone advertisers, will stay content to search within the walled gardens that predominate today."
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