Friday, October 30, 2009
Mobile Entertainment & mocoNews both had good stories today covering Nokia's confirmation of what mobile games publishers had been buzzing about for months, and that I had anticipated back in July (truly the worst kept secret in mobile entertainment)... that the second iteration of Nokia's N-Gage (the SDK and services iteration) was well and truly dead. The plan is to roll all of the Finnish handset manufacturer's mobile games retail initiatives into the "dynamite" Ovi app store that you're all enjoying. The good news for Nokia is that they lost all their credibility with games publishers and content owners on this initiative a long time ago. The bad news is that they're not going to get many more chances to convince those stakeholders that they have the chops to play a meaningful role in the development of the mobile content business. Nokia desperately needs to start executing on services.
- Apparently Mandalay Media (MNDL) is jonesing hard for that World Poker Tour Entertainment (WPTE). According to a press release this morning it's now offering to "acquire WPT for $36.5 million, consisting of $28.5 million in cash, $5 million in Mandalay Media stock and perpetual revenue participation rights, guaranteed to be at least $3 million. The estimated value to shareholders per share is $1.77, including the guaranteed portion of the revenue participation rights, and as adjusted for the actual share count at closing. The proposal represents a premium of approximately 61% over the closing price of WPT’s common stock on October 26, 2009 and a premium of approximately 28% over the implied value at closing of WPT’s pending asset sale with Peerless Media Ltd." Investors clearly like this potential marriage because both stocks are up over 10% in early trading this morning. Mandalay estimates that if the acquisition is successful that synergies (buzzword alert) realized in the combined company will yield annual revenues in excess of $60mil (compared to $47mil if you add their 2008 revs) and EBITDA in excess of $8mil. btw - if anyone has any insight into how this potential deal is going to be financed, I'd love to hear about it.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Not only is Mandalay Media (MNDL) clearly not heeding my advice to focus on adult mobile content, rather than trying to become a major player in the crowded mobile games space, it looks like their gaming ambitions run much deeper than mobile. Yesterday they announced that former Sorrent (now Glu Mobile) and Navio executive Ray Schaaf, a guy they characterized as a "mobile gaming veteran," has taken a position as company President. They followed that today with an announcement that the company has made a $35mil cash & stock bid to buy World Poker Tour (WPTE), at a 54% premium over its stock price and a 23% premium over an offer that's apparently already on the table (and pretty close to being done) from a company called Peerless Media. I don't have a clue where Mandalay is getting the cash for this audacious bid for a company, that at first glance, looks to be in better (if not equally not good) financial shape than it's in. But what I do know, is that if this acquisition is successful, it will radically realign and diversify the media holding company beyond mobile porn and games. That said, on the mobile front it would give Mandalay (and its Twistbox division) access to a proven, powerful franchise that's been shepherded for many years, under license, by Hands-On Mobile... who can't like this one bit.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Our old friend Paul "Monty" Munford resurrected his dormant (and sorely missed) Gaming and Wireless Outlook newsletter to announce, in inimitable style, that he's leaving his longtime employer Player X. The London content publisher and aggregator was acquired by The Borg... oops, I mean Zed, back in May. Monty is one of the reasons that I once characterized Player X as "the new cool kid on the block of mobile publishing" and he'll be indelibly associated in my mind with an exuberant (sometimes irrationally so) era of mobile entertainment. I greatly anticipate hearing more about his future endeavors... some of which are teased below.
After four years, three months and 21 days, Player X and I have severed our ties and are going in separate directions, both richer and wiser for the experience; so where better to announce this than in the newsletter that defined me.
Some marriages don't last that long and it was only as I stripped out my emails did I remember how hard we all worked to get Player X out there. We did a good job, I reckon. From start-up to a multi-million sterling sale wasn't bad at all.
I'd like to thank Tony Pearce and Ari Honka for giving me a job at Player X when others were unsure of employing a maverick and I'd also like to thank innumerable people over their years for their help when I was new to the business. You know who you are. As for the occasional twat, you too know who you are. Fortunately there weren't many of them.
Most of you know that I relocated to India 13 months ago and have been writing for UK broadsheets including The Sunday Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph and this weekend I have my first piece in the Financial Times. I have also published more than 50 issues of my Indian newsletter, Monty's Indian Outlook.
But writing today for a living is impossible, so while I like to keep my eye in, I have been concentrating more as a fulcrum between UK and Indian companies; a vocation that is working very well... although Hindi isn't easy and driving here is even worse.
I'm also heavily involved with a project that is OFF-THE-RECORD but means working personally with one of Hollywood's most successful film directors on taking the portfolio of his films to mobile. Unbelievably exciting but you'll hear more about that later I'm sure.
I am also off on location this month as a speaking 1930s British officer in a Bollywood movie being filmed by an Oscar-nominated Director in Goa about the 1930s Chittagong uprising (long story). Very David Brent, but life continues to be interesting, and that's how it should always be.
For those who'd like to keep in touch my email is firstname.lastname@example.org or I'm active at www.twitter.com/montymunford.
Thanks for listening and see you from time to time... I thought I'd give Nokia one last plug for all their previous love. Cheers Kamar.
Monday, October 26, 2009
I've recently been looking at games based on entertainment industry brands in the iTunes App Store. I've been paying particularly close attention to Paid Apps, because they're generally much higher quality and less ephemeral... and contribute directly to those oft-discussed, yet oft-elusive digital revenues the old media companies crave. The most striking thing I've noticed is how few of these Apps there are on iTunes. I could only find 40 (let me know what's missing from my list below), which is a measly 0.29% of the 14k Paid Games Apps that Mobclix claims are available in the App Store. Remember, back in the day, when all the operators had Movie/TV categories on their game decks that were chock full'o titles?
Does this mean that entertainment brands are less important on this platform? That seems counter-intuitive considering how cluttered the store is and how critical off-channel marketing is to gaining awareness... and when you consider that 4 of these 40 titles are currently in the Paid App Top 100, these brands can legitimately claim that they over-index in terms of popularity. Perhaps it's that a lot of the smaller developers, who are directly publishing game apps, can't afford licenses for premium brands. Perhaps it's that ongoing perception in gaming circles (some, but not all of it warranted) that games based on entertainment brands are crap. Whatever the reason, it looks like the studios seriously need to step up their distribution into the App Store via licensing or self-publication... to the extent they believe it's important place to own mindshare and a real opportunity to make money (it is and it is, btw). Let me know what you guys think.
When you click on the eye-chart above you'll see that I've sorted this list of 40 by the number of reviews... which gives an indication of popularity over lifetime. The most important thing to look at the star rating in relationship to the number of reviews. Currently the highest rated title is the Twilight Scene It? from RealArcade/Summit Entertainment with 4.5 stars... but it's only been out for a week and I'm sure most purchasers so far are delirious Twilight fans.
Back in July, gaming behemoth EA (ERTS) quietly opened a small studio called 8lb Gorilla (8PG) to create smaller, casual, cheaper-to-build, cheaper-to-buy (sub $3) games for iPhone and iPod touch. Their first release, "Zombies & me", debuted in the App Store on July 10, 2009 at a 99¢ price point. In a review touchArcade called this initial effort "good, but not great" and to date, on iTunes there have only been 376 user reviews with an average rating of 3 stars. Nevertheless, I think the general perception was that this was a decent first foray and that EA's strategy behind 8PG was fundamentally sound... industry folk were generally eager to see what they came up with next. The plan, according to touchArcade, was that the studio would launch new games (under the EA banner), like a little factory, on a "near-monthly" basis... provided there were no snafus in the App Store submission process. Uh...so, what happened? It's been 3 months and no new games, no updates to their website and no updates to their Twitter feed since the end of August. Has EA killed this initiative as quickly and stealthily as they launched it? If so, why? That's hardly giving a brotha a chance. The only explanations that I can come up with, at my current caffeine dosage, are the following: 1) 8PG's games are getting reject by Apple, 2) EA is reshuffling personnel at the unit or, my favorite... 3) the rumors about Playfish are true and EA is going to use those guys to build their casual mobile games. Any other theories out there?
3M now stands for Minnesota Mobile Marketing and the company's New Ventures arm is buying 6,447,491 shares in LA/Hong Kong based Artificial Life (ALIF) at a price of a $1 each. OK, the first part of that statement isn't true, but the announcement today, that 3M is taking 10% of the mobile marketing games company, does seem to indicate that the Maplewood, MN conglomerate believes mobile marketing is mission critical for the company going forward. The investment is part of a broader alliance between the companies which will focus on the following areas:
- General mobile and broadband applications and technologies
- Digital Watermarking
- Virtual Reconstruction of 2D and 3D Objects
- Augmented Reality
- 3D Image processing
- Object recognition
- Mobile Healthcare and Diabetes Solutions
- Mobile Marketing and M-Commerce Platform
This list indicates to me that Artificial Life is in the process of broadening the scope of its mobile marketing remit. Not a bad plan, frankly. Given the current glut of content plays and cluttered distribution channels, I think mobile marketing currently represents the biggest opportunity in mobile. The other really good news here for Artificial Life is that this investment bails them out of an uncomfortable cash position... at last check they had under $2mil in the bank (yikes!). Clearly the markets like it, as Artificial Life's stock is up over 20% today in early trading. But let's get to the most important question... so, what does a mobile Post-it note look like?
Friday, October 23, 2009
Retailers know that satisfied customers generally tell 5 people about their positive shopping experience, but that 85% of dissatisfied customers tell 9 people about their poor experience, 13% tell 20 and, I guess, every now and again one gets so frustrated he makes a cartoon about it and posts it on YouTube to tell the whole world about it. Kudos to Ben Smith at The Really Mobile Project for creating this and MobileGamesBlog.com for making me aware of this gem.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
A couple of weeks ago, just before CTIA in San Diego, Amazon.com made an announcement I somehow missed in the cacophony of show announcements, but that just may come to be regarded as a watershed moment in the history of mobile commerce. The Seattle e-retailer, said in a press release, that it was opening up its 1-Click checkout service to mobile developers and distribution channels through a series of APIs and an "optimized mobile browser experience." They call the service Amazon Mobile Payment Service or Amazon MPS.
So why is this important? One of the key components of Apple's phenomenal, meteoric rise to success in the mobile content space has been their legacy billing infrastructure... iTunes. Think about it, how many companies have your credit card on file and have authorization to bill that card with one click of a mouse or the D-pad? Remember that the seamless, established billing relationship, inherent in operator billing, was what was sexy about mobile content (post-dotcom) in the first place... but unfortunately, it eventually became clear that operators didn't know how to sell content. Now that every handset OEM, Google, tout le monde is opening up an "app store" to prove that it can be a digital merchant, this basic component has gone missing. I think the notion that consumers will feel comfortable surrendering their credit card and opting-in to future billing in order to facilitate their first purchase on Nokia's Ovi Store, or that they'll gladly link that tired ole PayPal account (where's that password anyway?) to Blackberry App World, is hopeful at best. For most folks Amazon, like Apple, is in the billing circle of trust.
So finally it looks like there's a weapon in the arsenal that will allow the most ambitious mobile content retailers to do battle with Apple, without the carrier... at least on the billing front ('cause they still need to build a compelling retail experiences, by the way). The whole mobile content ecosystem (content owners, developers, publishers and consumers) is screaming for meaningful challengers to Apple's dominance. Without competition Apple will have free reign to define consumers' content options and dictate wholesale and retail pricing. My recommendation to Nokia, Samsung, RIM, etc. is to seriously consider Amazon MPS to help them fight the good fight in the interest of at least being a strong second player (because it ain't bad being Target)... or don't, and leave it to those savvy guys at Handmark, who have already implemented it, or to the series of application creators I've spoken with recently (who currently sell via WAP and online) who are keen to deploy this purchase mechanism within their own specialty retail stores.
Here's a tally of the current film-based (not TV) applications, self-published (not licensed) by the studios, that are currently live on the iTunes App Store. The only title that is currently in the Top 100 (Paid or Free) is Paramount's Top Gun (#62), which has been live since May 5, 2009. In terms of licensed film titles (which I'll cover in more detail soon), there are currently two Top 100 Paid titles: Gameloft's Shrek Cart (#25), from the Dreamworks Animation title and RealArcade's Scene It? Twilight (#64) from the Summit Entertainment title. These two titles are also currently #7 and #40 respectively, in terms of Top Grossing Apps.
Monday, October 19, 2009
PocketGamer.biz is reporting, and the company's website is confirming, that Hands-On Mobile's President (and former Monstermob wunderkind) Niccolo de Masi has taken over as CEO of the San Francisco based mobile games publisher, replacing David White. I've also heard rumors recently that Dan Kranzler, who founded the company back in 2001 (when it was known as Mforma), may be planning to take a more active role in its management, after years of being a very passive Executive Chairman (and peacing out with the Dalai Lama).
Does this mean there's a massive restructuring in the works? Hopefully... because Hands-On, the poster child for unrealized potential in mobile entertainment, is long overdue for a shake up. This is a company that raised $63mil in venture funding in 2004, was on an IPO path in 2005, was an early content rockstar in China and at various times over its 5 year history has employed some of the smartest folks in mobile and controlled some of the most powerful brands in gaming (Marvel, Guitar Hero, World Poker Tour, etc.). Hands-On could have been, should have been, a global mobile gaming powerhouse like Gameloft or EA Mobile, but instead in 2009 they're a tertiary player that doesn't even make my Top 10 Mobile Games Publisher list.
So what's to do? According to PocketGamer they've been diversifying into platforms like PSP Minis, DSiWare, Facebook games and, get this, iPhone (where they currently have 8 Paid Apps, none in the Top 100)... hmm, but that sounds like what all the other kids are doing. Perhaps they should be really alternative and focus on the carrier business... oh, and while they're at it change the company name back to Mforma (which is cooler and more potential-ly). We'll see. Let's just hope the re-emergence is in process, the rumors about Kranzler are true and that he and de Masi have a few more rabbits (and a bunch of cash) in their hats.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Music business news & strategy source Music Ally put a post up on their blog yesterday with some juicy details they obtained about total worldwide subscriber uptake of Nokia's vaunted Comes With Music service. Apparently there were only 107k activated user accounts, across the 9 territories in which the service has launched, as of July.
When Music Ally confronted Nokia with the unspectacular numbers a spokesperson for the Finnish handset maker bragged about their rapid multi-territory rollout plans, acknowledged the inherent difficulties associated with a business model paradigm shift (true that) and then said, with regard to these specific stats, that "per our longstanding policy we do not comment on industry speculation or rumors." I guess the numbers are accurate.
This appears to be yet another case (like Ovi) where Nokia is trying to roll-out a content service globally, before it's fully baked. I would suggest that they should have tested this model a little bit longer in the UK (and maybe in one developing market) to better understand consumers' propensities to adopt it, and the ability of retailers to sell it, before pushing it out to all of their territories. Unfortunately this plane has already taken flight... and perhaps that stalled engine under the left wing will restart itself, and if not, perhaps Nokia's mechanics can fix it in the air... right?
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Beijing based mobile entertainment content publisher (and Cabana Mobile Stock Index component) Linktone (LTON) announced a deal with China National Radio Mobile Media that will allow it to distribute video highlights from Major League Baseball games to mobile phones throughout China. This comes on the heels of a company announcement late last month that it had entered multi-year deal with Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM).
"This partnership is an early example of the many possible product applications arising from Linktone's recently announced exclusive license for Major League Baseball related interactive media rights. Baseball will be coming to the portable screen in China via 3G technology, enabling baseball fans to follow their favorite teams and players anywhere and anytime," said Hary Tanoesoedibjo, Chairman and CEO of Linktone.
The chain of events indicates to me that despite having secured the rights from MLBAM, the company needed to get approval from (and partner with) the national broadcaster before moving forward. As those who have done business in China know well, "partnerships" with the appropriate government agencies or appointees, and staying in their good graces, is critical to success/survival in that market (just ask MonsterMob). Linktone, which has been around since 1999, definitely knows the ropes and has a long and impressive track record of bringing Western content to Chinese mobile users.
Investors clearly love this news and Linktone's stock is up over 20% in late trading. Let's hope, for all the parties involved, that the country's nascent 3G networks are capable of delivering a compelling user experience and that Chinese fans get addicted to baseball on the very small screen.
It's been more that a few months since I last wrote about MOBShop, so I thought I'd hunt around to see if there's any more information. Well I must say, Cyriac Roeding, Jeff Sellinger and crew are doing a commendable job of keeping it stealthy. But here are a couple of tidbits:
- I'm beginning to doubt that the company will actually be called MOBShop. The name Mobshop, the .com URL and a Twitter account are owned and maintained by a French company that facilitates the creation of e-commerce stores. Also, MobShop was the name of a dotcom-bust era consumer group-buying network site backed by Marc Andreeson, that closed its D2C business in 2001
- The company has recently hired software engineers with experience in streaming video and search, and it's still actively hiring techies. From the job descriptions it's becoming even more clear that location/context are very important to this venture. I would go as far to say that it probably involves the red-hot buzz term "augmented reality" (like Layar)
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Social network maven Mashable created a buzz-frenzy earlier today when it reported on a rumor (though it must be a well-sourced one for them to post it) that Electronic Arts (ERTS) may have quietly purchased Facebook game developer Playfish (run by former Glu Mobile EMEA chief Kristian Segerstrale) for $250mil a few weeks ago.
If this is true, it would be highly ironic, even bizarre, in light of a GamesBeat post a couple of hours later covering a discussion EA's new COO, John Schappert had with Wall Street Journal reporter Yukari Kane. During the conversation, at a Dow Jones Newswire event in Redwood City, Schappert equated the hype around social games to that around mobile games at the time the company bought (overpaid) $680mil for Jamdat in 2005. "Social games have attracted a lot of eyeballs. Venture money is pouring into it. Is it sustainable or is it a bubble? There are a lot of parallels to mobile," he said. He then went on, according to the report, to recall that the "mobile craze" created unrealistic expectations for growth.
The only way to reconcile these two pieces of information (if the former is true) is if the purchase negotiations are ongoing and Schappert is strategically trying to downplay the hype around social gaming to minimize the final purchase price. Clever? Whether he believes what he said or not, I think he's almost correct, except that social gaming is an even bigger hype-bomb than mobile games ever were. If you guessed that I think buying Playfish (or Zynga, etc.) at current frothy valuations is a good idea for EA, then you've obviously been living on one of Playfish's Crazy Planets for the last several months. That said, if Playfish has the opportunity to sell at this price (or near it) they should jump on it.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Here are the two latest developments in this ongoing saga...
1) On October 1st GetFugu, Inc. filed a form 8-K with the SEC in response the lawsuit filed against it by SpongeTech (SPNG) earlier that same day. In the document the company acknowledged the legal action, dismissed it as being without merit and announced that it had terminated its relationships with both SpongeTech Delivery Systems, Inc. and Vanity Events Holdings, Ltd. (VAEV). The company also maintained that it had a "fiduciary obligation to retain the funds" it had received while it investigated "potentially illegal activities" perpetrated by these investors that are "jeopardizing GetFugu and its continued viability." GetFugu's allegations from the filing are listed below:
- We have reason to believe that you have been engaging in short selling of Company stock in anticipation of your proposed investment in the Company in violation of federal securities laws.
- SpongeTech has been publicly accused of forgery and identity theft in connection with attorney opinion letters allegedly forged by SpongeTech.
- In addition, in researching these events, it came to our attention that the payor in each of the electronic wires described above was RM Enterprises International, Ltd., not SpongeTech or Vanity. We are unsure about the connection of RM Enterprises with SpongeTech or Vanity. RM Enterprises was never considered by GetFugu to be a party to the proposed investment, and we were previously unaware of the existence of RM Enterprises. We find troubling the fact that monies have come from this entity, rather than SpongeTech or Vanity as originally intended and as publicly announced by all parties.
2) Then, on October 9th Vanity Events Holding, Inc. announced that it had determined not to proceed with its previously announced $1mil investment in GetFugu, Inc. (no great surprise).
- “After further consideration, the Company determined that, at this time, it was in its best interest to rescind the plans to invest in GetFugu and its technology,” commented CEO of Vanity, Steven Moskowitz. “We do believe their technology is exciting and could change the way consumers purchase products via their mobile phones and we wish them well on their launch.”
- Contrary to any press releases or other statements issued by GetFugu, the transaction was canceled prior to the execution of any definitive documentation between the parties and no funds were advanced or invested by Vanity.
I must say, as information continues to emerge on this story, and as I read on multiple investor discussion boards about the reputations of the overlapping directors of SpongeTech, Vanity Holding and RM Enterprises International (mentioned in the GetFugu 8-K filing) as stock promoters (which some think is good), the more I feel that this whole transaction could use a healthy scrubbing with one of SpongeTech's products. Fundamentally, in what world does it make sense for mini microcap companies in the soap-infused sponge and touring swimsuit model businesses (the latter doesn't even have a website) to invest in an enhanced mobile search marketing company? (Clue: It doesn't) I get the sense that all of these companies, including GetFugu, are primarily in the business of making management (and early stage investors) wealthy in the very short run, rather than creating quality products and/or services to form the basis of sustainable companies that can hire employees, benefit consumers and generate income for a large number of investors over the long term. Is building a real business an anachronism? I hope not. Unfortunately, there are still far too many companies in the mobile entertainment space, and in the broader entrepreneurial economy, wedded to poisonous, dotcom era (everyone's gonna be a millionaire) thinking that validated and glorified the creation of companies where the most important component of the business plan was the exit strategy, with its associated payday. It's way past time to move on. It's time to celebrate real business.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Well, actually, during CTIA on Wednesday Verizon Wireless announced its top mobile games during the June through September 2009 time period. But there ain't no denying that most of these Summer hotties have been 'round the block more than a few times... and I must say that I'm deeply conflicted between respect, disbelief and revulsion that they're still clearly finding a substantial audience of new devotees at the expense of new talent (who clearly aren't working it right). Here's the list...
- The Sims 3
- Guitar Hero World Tour
- PAC-MAN by Namco
- World Series of Poker Pro
- Where's Waldo?
- The Oregon Trail
- MONOPOLY Here & Now
Thursday, October 8, 2009
So I survived another CTIA, this time with my voice and (obligatory liver damage aside) my health intact. I was unsure how well San Diego was going to work out for the show, but I was pleasantly surprised. The Gaslamp District seemed cleaner and nicer than I'd remembered it... with just enough grit to keep it entertaining. While enjoying vodka martinis alfresco at Greystone Steakhouse a friend and I were treated to several rounds of hobo-karate street theater. But, overall I like San Diego better for CTIA than SF (and much better than Orlando)... plus it's drivable from LA. So what did I learn? Uh, not that much frankly... but here are a few morsels that you all might find interesting:
- There was a significant amount of heat around Android, both from a device and content publisher standpoint. That said, publishers continue to have concerns about the lack of carrier-integrated billing.
- Windows Marketplace for Mobile running on Windows Mobile 6.5 looked pretty slick and worked pretty well on the HTC Pure (AT&T). The application catalog is still kinda light, BUT this store does have carrier billing.
- The Motorola CLIQ with Motoblur running on Android was my favorite new handset at the show. I spent a bunch of time with this device and was really impressed with the form factor, user interface and user experience. It looks kinda like an N97, only smaller and lighter. Motoblur is the best execution of desktop widgets that I've ever seen on a mobile device. For Moto's sake I hope that there's no hidden lameness.
- There was a lot of buzz about the departures of respected mobile games industry veterans Greg Ballard and Jill Braff from Glu Mobile and about who their replacements might be. The general consensus is that management and the board have been at odds over the path forward for the publisher.
- The rooftop bar at The Ivy hotel is definitely the best hangout spot in San Diego. But 207 @ the Hard Rock Hotel was the true hub of the show... SD's version of the W Bar in SF. BTW - almost nothing was happening on the actual CTIA show floor.
- Billboard's Mobile Entertainment Live! should be re-named Mobile Entertainment Dead!... the event was a pathetic shadow of its former self.
- Apparently, I need to revise some of my Top 10 Mobile Games Publisher WW numbers down... and if Sony Pictures' claim to mocoNews.net that they are the fifth largest games publisher in terms of downloads is to be believed, then perhaps I need to include them on the list (...but I suspect some more diligence is required).
- I was distressed by how many industry veterans discussed leaving mobile. Many others were re-focusing their mobile efforts on the un-sexiest, most established mobile services (where there's actually some money to be made).
That's all I have for now, if I remember any more as I come out of the post-show fog I'll add it. Did anyone out there see anything mindblasting at the show that I missed?
Mandalay Media announced on Tuesday that Ian Aaron, the CEO of Twistbox and Director of Mandalay Media, Inc. (MNDL), was stepping down effective the next day. The release did not give a real reason ("to pursue other interests"... hmm, like macramé or scrapbooking or something?), nor did it indicate who would be replacing him. However, Aaron's statement that "with 80% of (the company's) mobile business International, my departure coincides with the transitioning of our day-to-day operations overseas," would indicate that the position may be moving to Europe.... perhaps to the UK offices of AMV, which the company purchased a year ago. This is the second sudden C-level executive departure in the last 6 months.... back in June CFO Jay Wolfe was abruptly replaced by Russell Burke. As I've written about recently the company faces two critical issues going forward. First, they need more cash, and second, I think they need to decide whether they're a mobile adult entertainment company or a games company. Considering that the former is 87% of their revenue, and considering the current glut of competition in the mobile games space, I'd say the choice is pretty clear.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Cabana Mobile will be in sunny San Diego at CTIA through Thursday, looking for the new hotness in mobile entertainment. I'll also be monitoring the buzz around Android and Windows phone (f/k/a Windows Mobile)... which are finally getting almost exciting, and maybe even check out a few new handsets. I'll post a recap Thursday evening or Friday morning, unless something mindblasting happens in the interim.
Monday, October 5, 2009
Missed this post from Wireless Watch Japan a couple of weeks ago featuring a new ranking, courtesy of GfK, of handset sales in that country. I guess iPhone now officially rocks everywhere. Also, I enjoy celebrating very much with giggling what is the special ingenious translation on this chart's bottom.
Here's my latest update to this list. You'll notice, based on my recent post estimating Digital Chocolate's numbers, that I've moved them up the list and increased the total revenue estimate of the Top 10.
As always, your feedback is welcome and encouraged.
As always, your feedback is welcome and encouraged.
Friday, October 2, 2009
WirelessGamesBlog.com is reporting this morning that ROK Entertainment (ROKE) has acquired veteran UK mobile sports games publisher Player One for an undisclosed sum. ROK, which has been primarily focused on mobile streaming video services since it's launch in 2004, has recently been bolstering its ROK 8 games subsidiary... in August the company announced a distribution agreement with Inspired Gaming Group. With regard to the Player One purchase ROK Chairman and CEO Jonathan Kendrick, said “Mobile gaming is proving to be evermore popular worldwide, so we are delighted to add Player One to our portfolio of revenue-generating mobile products and we look forward very much to the successful deployment of their existing library of world-class mobile games as well as developing new games, going forward.” In theory this diversification strategy isn't a bad idea, since games do continue to have the best business model in the mobile entertainment space (and video might have the worst one, frankly). The challenge here is that Player One isn't exactly on the bleeding edge of mobile gaming... they're a very UK-centric, old-line Java games house (they have 1 title in the US iTunes App Store).... and they've been pretty quiet lately. So for ROK to maximize the financial potential from this acquisition they absolutely must invest some money to make Player One more relevant in the post-carrier-dominated, smartphone app store, world. Overcoming this challenge will be a non-trivial task for ROK, since the company is definitely not rolling in cash.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
MocoNews is reporting that Glu Mobile's (GLUU) SVP of Global Publishing Jill Braff is leaving the company, after 6 years, to join a privately held mystery company as CEO effective October 9th. This follows the announcement by Greg Ballard in July that he was stepping down as Glu's CEO, as soon as a replacement is found (which still hasn't happened), and the departure last month of European MD Frank Keeeling. Jon Jordan, over at PocketGamer.biz, is theorizing that this cluster of departures from Glu's executive suite could signal that a major re-organization or possible sale is in the works.
Just a quick update to my recent posts about GetFugu (GFGU). It turns out that SpongeTech, which rescinded it's $4mil investment in the company last Thursday, announced today that it is filing suit against GetFugu for “breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, common law fraud, conversion, willful misconduct and unlawful appropriation of funds.” GetFugu's stock was down 16% on the news.
The cacophonous blog buzz and tech site chatter about the Swedish music service Spotify has gotten so out of control I simply couldn't ignore it any longer. What the hell is all the excitement about? Allegedly Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing and other rockstar investors have already bet up to $50mil on Spotify. Is this the off-the-heeziest music app ever? Is it gonna save the music business? Well I haven't tried yet, because I can't here in the US... it's currently only available in UK, Sweden, Norway, Finland, France and Spain online and on iPhone and Android. But, I've been doing some book-learnin' about it.
Fundamentally Spotify is an ad-supported and subscription-based online and mobile music streaming service that allows users to access up to 4.5mil tracks from all the major labels and put them into playlists. The mobile service, which works on both 3G & WiFi, also has a cool feature that allows you to locally cache over 3k tracks for playback where you have crap coverage... which will be very useful in the US. Online you can opt to listen to ads and have free access, on mobile it's always a monthly subscription fee in the €9.99/mo range, we'll see what they come up with for the States ($12.99/mo?). Aside from a few minor gripes about the iPhone version, mostly around volume controls, remote-control issues and inability to run the App in the background (a broader iPhone issue), reviews of the UI, OTA syncing and playback performance of the mobile service have been overwhelmingly positive. Sounds totally awesome, right?
But wait, isn't that uh...er... Rhapsody? The music service run by RealNetworks that launched way back in 2001? The free service model may be a little different, but overall the model is pretty much the same. Hell, Rhapsody even has an iPhone App... that's available now in the US. Granted their iPhone App doesn't have the offline playback features and it reviews have been pretty mediocre... and the core service doesn't have some of the cool collaborative functions Spotify does. However, my point is that Spotify is not really a groundbreaking idea. It looks even less so when compared with the bevy of interesting twists on this model, including Pandora (which I'm a big fan of) that creates streaming radio stations for users (online & mobile) based on their musical tastes. There's a bunch of interesting music subscription choices out there for consumers and, unfortunately, so far none of them could be characterized as a financial success story (after all these years Rhapsody still has under 1mil paying subs).
All this leads me to believe that Spotify is not going to be the music industry's super-App (savior App?) simply by virtue of being good and being available on multiple platforms. Success for Spotify (and I wish it for them) will all come down to marketing, merchandising and eventizing this App to über-jaded consumers, who are currently being overwhelmed by online and mobile entertainment application clutter... and who are being more conscientious than ever about managing their monthly recurring expenses. Hopefully Spotify has put some of that $50mil aside to keep the hype alive.