Ads Foot the Bill for Mobile Version of MySpace

Hoping to ride the rising mobile Web wave, Fox Interactive Media (FIM) is offering free mobile access to MySpace and several other sites.

The free mobile Web versions of the sites will be supported by advertising instead of user subscription fees. However, the fee-based versions of the sites will remain available and will offer more features than the free, ad-supported sites, the company said.

Unlike the premium versions — which require users to download and install applications on their mobile devices — the free sites will be accessible by anybody owning a WAP (wireless access protocol)-enabled phone.

Rise of the Mobile Web

MySpace is the most popular of the sites for which FIM, a division of News Corp., is creating the free versions. The others are the IGN Entertainment division, FOXSports.com, AskMen and RottenTomatoes.com.

FIM will launch the new MySpace Mobile Web service this week in beta and roll out the other sites over the next several months.

Accessing the Internet from mobile devices “will soon be as common as text messaging and voice calling,” predicted FIM Senior Vice President and General Manager of Mobile John Smelzer.

Tearing Down the Wall

The advertisements that will accompany the mobile Web FIM sites will be provided by Maryland-based Millennial Media, which operates an ad network that will sell and serve the mobile ad units. FIM’s deal with Millennial Media calls for “custom sponsorship packages within MySpace and more traditional display-based ads with other FIM properties.”

FIM and Millennial Media plan to sell a limited number of charter sponsorships for the new MySpace mobile site during the next several months and open all advertising inventory by the end of the calendar year.

The endeavor is the company’s first attempt at ad-supported mobile Web sites. Eliminating the monthly fee “significantly lowers the barrier of entry for all MySpace users to access their profiles on the go,” said MySpace’s vice president of business development, Amit Kapur.

The model is a big part of MySpace’s effort to earn revenue from the mobile Web, he added.

Somewhat Bare Bones

The free MySpace mobile site will not have “all the bells and whistles” as the one that is fee-based, noted FIM spokesperson Dan Berger.

“The feature set is more basic than what you would find in the premium downloadable application,” he said, pointing to the US$2.99-per-month service available on AT&T as an example. “It’s focused on being able to send and receive messages, update blogs, view or invite friends. The premium applications have more graphical applications.”

Those using the free WAP version will not be able to upload and post photographs, said Berger.

Yet to be seen is whether the ads will slow delivery of MySpace pages to the point that people find the free service too annoying. The key to the initiative’s success might lie in the way people react to the ads, Yankee Group mobile analyst Jill Aldort told TechNewsWorld.

“It comes down to less a matter of there being advertising and more a matter of how it impacts the user experience,” she said.

Nevertheless, the ad-supported model is more likely to succeed than the monthly fee model, in Aldort’s view. “I don’t think that the best model for accessing social networks over phone is to charge a monthly subscription fee. Doing that is going to really limit the options to a niche of consumers.”

The Carrier Problem

While there might be no fee to access the ad-supported sites, users still face various charges from the wireless carriers.

“Carriers need to move to flat-rate mobile Web-browsing packages so people can access whatever Web sites they want — kind of like the way you can access the Internet at home,” suggested Aldort. “I think that’s the way things need to move, and it’s probably going to have to be advertising-supported, because the economics are such that consumers don’t want to pay $40 month in addition to what they pay for home Internet access.”

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