The Demise of Mobile Advertising

The Demise of Mobile Advertising by adibs
The Demise of Mobile Advertising, a photo by adibs on Flickr.

Back in 2007 when I first came to Singapore to find work, buses had TV on them. This was remarkable for me, coming from Jakarta where the public transport system barely meet humane standards. These television sets runs a programme that’s pretty similar to the local broadcast television shows, although I couldn’t verify since I didn’t have a TV Set of my own (and still don’t have it now – but that’s a topic for another blog post).

Apparently these are called TV Mobile, and was run by a separate company outside the bus operator. Their motive? Advertising. Note that they pay money to the bus operator to run these on their buses – they’re not doing it for public service.

About couple of years ago, I noticed that buses with TV Mobile are getting harder to find. Which made me wonder why. This morning I just found one, albeit with the TV turned off, so I’d better take a picture of it before it’s totally gone.

Sure enough, Wikipedia said that TV Mobile closed down in 2010. Apparently they found that they could not continue operations profitably. Did the iPhone killed TV Mobile? That’s what I think. Portable movie players cum mobile phones like iOS and Android devices pretty much drained the attention span of most commuters. When commuting I see people either busy playing games on their phones or watch some kind of movie.

Note that the iPhone was a latecomer to Singapore –  available only in late 2008 and exclusively to one operator. It was around 2010 that all three operators can offer the iPhone and Apple sells it without a binding contract. Competing Android devices’ availability timelines are pretty similar.

Does this mean that advertising have moved to mobile apps? Probably. But maybe not really. I’m curious to see what’s the conversion rates of those in-app advertisements and whether they’re actually worthwhile for those who paid to run them. A note from my personal experience, the combined advertising revenue of our apps is less than their premium counterparts. Really ad-supported applications are likely only feasible for large-scale mass-market apps with big financial backings. Not for niche indie apps like ours.

Personally as a user I usually pay for the apps that I really use. I download the advertising-supported versions to see if they meet my needs and then go to to the paid versions if I find them useful. I don’t jailbreak my iPhone and iPad since I also use them for testing my own apps. Furthermore, I think jailbreaking just to pirate apps is just mean to indie developers like me (unless your motivation to jailbreak is to get apps that are not allowed by Apple – that’s a different story). Pirating apps made sense when I was making only $400/month in Jakarta. But with a 1st world salary, the time wasted in finding cracked apps, jailbreaking your phone, and hoping that the crackers doesn’t embed some kind of malware into the pirated apps made this path less attractive.

In conclusion, is advertising still a viable industry or is it reaching a point of diminishing return? The death of TV Mobile makes it look that’s the case.



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