Mobile Was the Message at South-by-Southwest Fest

Mobile was the medium everyone was buzzing about at the South-by-Southwest (SXSW) Interactive conference in Austin, Texas last week. Panelists speculated about the changes that the mobile platform would bring to movies, television, and video games. Meanwhile, vendors promoted functionality in hopes of getting their big ideas funded.

Much of the innovation discussed at SXSW was focused on the 1,400 bands, and online services supporting them, that were descending on Austin for the SXSW Music Festival, which followed the interactive event. The highest profile of those services was Mozes, which lets users create and manage text message-based mobile campaigns so brands, bands and fans can be connected. Fans can send messages to artists through Mozes, creating an interactive mobile community for each artist.

The Mozes service also supports live event activity such as backstage pass contests, text-to-screen participation and audience voting. Only a handful of the bands scheduled to perform had signed with Mozes by the time the festival had begun, but artists such as Akon, JoJo, Plain White T’s, Lil’ Romeo, hellogoodbye and many Universal Records artists are using Mozes today.

In an interview on the eve of the festival, Irv Remedios, VP of products and marketing at Mozes, explained that mobile messaging was important to the independent music scene because “Bands are no different, in many ways, than brands. They are looking for ways to connect with their fans in interesting and newfound ways. Mobile phones offer the bands another vehicle that identifies with an individual person.”

Mozes partnered with Mozilla at SXSW on a mobile campaign to help drive usage of its Firefox browser. By texting “Firefox” to 66937 users can receive Firefox updates, wallpaper, and join the Firefox “mob.” Like the firm’s work with bands, Mozes is helping Mozilla to build groups of fans nationwide. The company’s clients use the product to place widgets on their MySpace pages, allowing people to sign up, or to give away backstage passes during live events. “They’re trying to give a different experience to their fans than they have ever gotten before,” said Remedios.

According to The Mobile Marketing Association there are more than 235 million mobile phones in the United States, a fraction of the more than two billion users worldwide. Nearly 60 percent of mobile users in the U.S. have sent a text message; and six billion SMS messages were passed in 2006, more than 300 times the total at the end of 2000. The promise of increasing usage had SXSW attendees and investors looking at opportunities to push feature content and advertising through the mobile Web. User-generated content created and delivered through mobile phones and functions that leverage GPS were also discussed.

Interactive conference attendees packed two separate panels focused on mobile gaming, overflowing ScreenBurn, the show’s gaming track. Despite the crowd’s fervor, optimism was tempered by the reality of the mobile space and its development challenges. Matthew Bellows, GM of video game developer Floodgate, explained the obstacles involved in mobile gaming. He suggested game development is more expensive on mobile phones because of the variety of different platforms each needs to serve. “You make an Xbox game, and it works, [but for mobile platforms], we have to do a 2D build, a 3D build [and] a translation.”

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