Mobile World Congress is big. Properly big. Too-big-to-see-everything-even-if-you're-here-for-a-week big.
While the roots of MWC lie firmly in the telco arena, it has certainly branched out over the last few years, as smartphones have moved the 'mobile' market away from just telephony and text into a whole economy of its own. The new MWC features the internet of things, 5G connectivity, mobile payments and crypto-currency, data, health and fitness, smart homes, AI, VR, oh and quite a bit of media, marketing and advertising. So much so that we have a whole hall to ourselves these days.
There are eight halls in all, each one impossibly huge and full of all the latest tech on show. Along with CES, Cannes and Dmexco, MWC feels like it is firmly on the agenda as one of the four big global tech and media conferences to be at.
So firstly, why aren't you here? Matt Adams (chief executive of Havas UK) recently commented that it was a must-attend conference for senior marketers and advertisers, but a look at the attendees from major clients and agencies and it doesn't seem to be troubling the judges just yet. There may be the feeling that it’s still a hardware conference; maybe in these pitch-filled times it's difficult to justify two or three days out the office; or maybe it's the absence of yachts moored in the sunshine to tempt you onboard? Either way, for a conference that covers so much around a device that is taking up so much of our time, and starting to eat up so many ad dollars, it still feels light on senior UK advertising folk – creatives, clients and media owners.
Part of the fun of MWC is seeing the hype build up around new phone and tech releases. Big mobile companies prioritise MWC over CES to launch their great hope for the year. So it was amusingly retro to see that all of the pre-conference hype was surrounding Nokia re-releasing the Nokia 3310 – a nostalgic throwback to most people's first mobile 17 years ago, and the reintroduction of that much moved mobile game, Snake.
Given that we have cameras built in to phones now that are more powerful than previous digital SLR cameras; storage and programming capabilities the same as huge computers; and gaming that has evolved into areas like augmented reality with Pokemon Go, I'm a little puzzled about the excitement. But hey, that's the value of nostalgia. At £49 for the handset and with no online capability, I'm sure it will find a market of people desperate to rediscover the power of unpredictive text and no apps! Who needs 5G when you can go back to 2G.
MWC requires quite a bit of work in advance to keep you busy. Plan the halls and zones you want to see, plan which seminars and presentations from a choice of hundreds that you want to attend, and plan the meetings you want to have in between those sessions. There are so many amazing talks with global leaders, you need to plan ruthlessly.
Monday kicked off with a full agenda, including an excellent session with Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix – no doubt fresh from celebrating his company's first ever Oscar last night (they didn't screw up their envelope). He talked about content still being the major asset for attracting and retaining consumers, and this is absolutely bang on brand for Netflix. Not many companies have managed the move to subscription services, but if it's good enough content, people will pay.
There was another session on publishing and media going through so much change (driven by digital and specifically by mobile) that entire business strategies have had to change. The session also cited content, in this instance specifically evolving away from fixed, professionally curated journalism, into an evolved model including bloggers, 'citizen journalism', and user generated content (UGC).
At Yahoo we like to think of 'content' as a pyramid, with our owned and operated Yahoo content at the top – written and delivered by professional, full-time Yahoo journalists writing premium editorial copy for our online publishing business. Under that we have our premium partners, who bring real, credible news to our content ecosystem and provide depth and quality to our news stream. We were excited to announce just last week a deal with the Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Evening Standard and Hearst magazines, to act as a global distribution partner for all of these amazing partners’ content through Yahoo in the UK.
I love that Yahoo is investing in and supporting quality journalism, and we all have a challenge in how we surface that to advertisers. There must be an associated premium recognition from clients and agencies, not just a digital system that blindly chases clicks regardless of where they are delivered. It is a true partnership, as we are giving these UK brands a huge global distribution footprint, but also we help them to monetise it through our native ad platform.
Returning to the sessions, one looked specifically at the areas of UGC, short form content and content creation that evolves to the platform or relevant demographic. This is an area where, in the UK digital industry, I feel we need to do so much more. It is the responsibility of clients to understand the original content in gifs and memes on Tumblr, or Snaps and Filters on Snapchat, because without that knowledge, we will merely be creating traditional formats and trying to shoe-horn them into environments where they stick out as obvious ads.
And one thing we know about this younger generation (I refuse to use the term 'millennial') is that they were born connected, and they are much needier and choosier than they have ever been. They have choice and they have increasing control. It's our job to understand and provide solutions to best fit their behaviours, not the other way round. Vertical mobile video anyone? Anyone?
So that was part of day one, as I landed on Monday. A nice early night and an early start with a whole day’s IAB conference, several meetings, and a bit of gadget spotting to do in the halls. Apple Watch charged. Mobile charged. Mobile charger charged. I'm ready to do it all again.
Nigel Clarkson is managing director of Yahoo UK
If you're missing the action at Mobile World Congress, check out The Drum's Video Round-Up