Sanders: Mobile Rev To Be Driven By Search, Not Music

New York attorney and SAI contributor Jeff Sanders flew to Singapore this week to make his case that the Gartner Group is hallucinating about the future of the mobile music market. Sanders is a partner at Roberts & Ritholtz LLP.

In case you’re wondering what we lawyers do when we’re not representing you, we’re fighting about the same thing you are: What the future holds, and who it will benefit.

In Singapore this week, wireless industry attorneys and execs tangled over the revenue potential for wireless search. I, for one, criticised Gartner’s Stephanie Pittett’s ludicrous 2010 forecast, which crowns music as the ascendant king of all wireless media–with an astonishing $32 billion in worldwide revenues.  This contention, if true, would mean that the mobile/wireless music industry will grow to 250% of 2007’s entire declining music industry. 

Instead, I predicted that wireless content growth would be fuelled not so much pay per view video and music, but by a migration of today’s growing $20 billion search market from the desktop to the handset.  My Space advisor and counsel James Roberts, meanwhile, ridiculed this “search above all” world view.  Users, James contended, would never click through sponsored links embedded in mobile search results, chilling the revenue potential for the medium.

Privately, NBC/Universal’s Anna Kuzmik confirmed that NBC/Universal’s SMS text subscribers were willing to click through links embedded in NBC/Uni driven text alerts and that the comglomerate views interactive handset advertising as an attractive high margin business.  The company has not yet explored the potential of handset advertising in a rich media, search driven environment.

Given that the “show of hands” poll in the room yielded less than a 15% use rate for pay-per-view video and more than 80% for mobile search, it looks like the only question is when, not if Google and the rest of the industry will figure out how to monetise the micro screen.  When they do, not only will search eclipse video and music as the raison d’etre for advanced wireless, it may very well become the mobile gateway to mobile entertainment.