INTERVIEW: Mobile operators are searching for new and innovative ways to generate revenues beyond service plans.

Julien Oudart, sales and marketing director for French mobile advertising company Sofialys, tells about the opportunities open to carriers from opt-in subscriber databases.

There is no doubt that mobile operators are facing plenty of challenges in today’s rapidly evolving telecommunications ecosystem.

But Julien Oudart, sales and marketing director for French mobile advertising company Sofialys, believes there are plenty of opportunities for operators to monetize their offerings beyond service plans.

He said carriers in Europe are still a big part of the value chain and have made steady progress in taking "a piece of the advertising action" through offering services such as mobile video and mobile games.

"All these things work technically. Now it’s a matter of attracting brands," he said.

Volumes on games and video are still low for mobile, but Oudart said he was confident this would change.

"We will get there as more people connect to these services," he said. "Mobile has it all in one device. You get video, games, a phone – different options."

This opens up opportunities for creating cross-media content, but Oudart said the key element is access to subscribers.

"I think an opt-in database is crucial," he said.

Especially so since legislators in the US are saying it is illegal to push campaigns to people without their consent – effectively making it spam.

By tapping their user base to sell to pan-European advertisers, Oudart said operators were in a good position to generate additional revenues.

Consumer Attitudes

He said consumers are willing to opt-in and be exposed to advertising if – and this is the important bit – they get something attractive in return.

"We always try and be transparent. So when we sign someone up there is no pre-ticked box which will then see them receive spam," he said.

"We explain to people that they will receive promotions. It is then up to them to say yes or no."

The lure for consumers, according to Oudart is the promotions and coupons they receive for different brands and goods.

To be effective these have to be correctly targeted based on people’s user profiles.

"I don’t think people are against being exposed to brands," he said. "What matters is that relevant brands reach people and to communicate to the right segment."

Another element to specific targeting is geo-tagging, something the French mobile operator SFR has been trialling with a few thousand subscriber volunteers from its user database.

Four companies were signed up for the trial, including a restaurant chain and jewellery chain.

Oudart said everytime a user passes one of the participating businesses, a 20 per cent discount coupon might be pushed to their handset, or they are served an ad for the relevant outlet.

"Geo-location services will be important," he said.

However, he stressed that it’s vital not to annoy users by bombarding them with messages – Sofialys always asks how many messages someone wants to receive in a week, according to Oudart.

Headquartered in Paris, the supplier of mobile marketing and advertising solutions was formed six years ago as a technology provider to help operators and publishers monetize mobile portals across Europe, Asia, Middle East and the US.

Its biggest customer is SFR, which owns a 20 per cent stake in the company, but it also works with a pool of mobile publishers and agencies.

Expanding Horizons

However, Oudart said Sofialys is beginning to expand its operations with other operators and clients around Europe.

He said there are several possibilities in the UK and they have just signed a partnership contract with Adfrap, a UK-based full service mobile agency.

"For us it’s an interesting step into the UK market," he said. "It generates between 80-100 million pages views every month.
"When you reach significant volumes like this it starts to be interesting."

Oudart said they have also signed up a pool of publishers and are working with a couple of sales houses in the UK.

In general terms mobile advertising has not been that badly affected by the economic situation, according to Oudart, and continues to grow at a healthy rate.

Its buoyancy has been boosted by the iPhone, which he said has "shaken up everything".

The Apple handset has done a lot to drive up mobile broadband use – something that Oudart believes is both an opportunity and a challenge.

He said it creates more volumes – but because it is easier for the likes of Google and Yahoo to put ads on the iPhone, the entry barrier has been lowered.

"We know how mobile works and we can bring value to this," he said. "But more people can now do what we do – that’s why we are trying to differentiate ourselves."

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