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Predicting hyperbole

A quote from a blog post dated 2 June 2006:

The CEO of the world's second-largest media company, Publicis, say "In a couple of years, most of the information you share, most of the advertising you read, most of the messages you send and most of the music you listen to, will transit through your cell phone." (Ahonen)

Note that we are now February 2008 and I have yet to notice the demise of television, internet, billboards, mp3 players, the radio, etc...

You have to wonder what planet that guy is living on? I suppose it's the planet of high-flying advertising agency directors who spend their time convincing themselves and their clients that their 'vision' is the next 'blue ocean', 'flat earth', 'synergistic competitive collaboration', 'strategic pro-active pre-positioning preparation', 'glocal event horizon', or whatever term required to seem different from what was 'the future' six months before...


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Tomi T Ahonen on :

Hi Julian and readers of your blog.

Hi Ahonen, and thanks for taking the time to give such a detailed response to my off-the-cuff rant.

I'm the Ahonen that the blog entry is credited with (not the CEO of Publicis who was quoted by me in that blog post).

Yes it was someone else who said it, sorry if that was not clear.

I appreciate the discipline by readers to us forecasters and pundits, to keep us honest. Obviously nobody can get their forecasts totally right, I've been wrong many times in my famous published forecasts in the past, althought I've been close to right much more than severely wrong, in my history so far.

But first, that was obviously not my forecast. Secondly, you take a very strict definition, when the quotation said "in a couple of years" - then that most would say is three or four years, not two.

Well funnily enough, I had exactly the same disagreement with a friend the other day, who said the same thing as you – i.e. three or four years. For me, it’s always meant two, in the sense of a married couple, or ‘the mobile phone coupled with an mp3 player is a gadget of the future’. Anyway, apparently not everyone does so…

However, lets examine the statements and their truthfulness.

"In a couple of years, most of the information you share, most of the advertising you read, most of the messages you send and most of the music you listen to, will transit through your cell phone."

Your response was "I have yet to notice the demise of television, internet, billboards, mp3 players, the radio, etc..."

It did not say "all" information, "all" messaging, "all" advertising and "all" music so your position of expecting a "demise" of TV, internet, MP3 players etc is taking too severe a position. The original quotation did say most not all, and if most information, advertising, messaging etc "transits" through a phone, it is not mutually exclusive with the internet, TV etc.

I am not being silly about this. Consider for example an executive using a Blackberry and reading an email. That email was probably sent via the internet on a PC, but arrived on a Blackberry. So "half" of the message transmission was on a mobile phone (Blackberry) and the other half on a PC, and went part of the way through the internet. It does not require a "demise" of the internet, or TV, etc, to have most of the media traffic transmitting ALSO through a phone.

OK yes it says ‘most’ not ‘all’. However, it is implying that all of the these things will predominantly get to you via the phone. So what I meant about the ‘demise’ of other media forms is not that they are exclusive, but that until people stop watching TV, listening to the radio, using a computer, etc. more than they spend time using their phone, I doubt this prediction will come true in the time frame provided. It’s proportional.

For example advertising: it is implying that the advertising will predominantly get to you via the phone. So, if an average hour of TV has ten minutes of advertising (I’m making that up, seems a conservative guess), and I watch three hours a day – then I will need to have more than 30 minutes of advertising getting to me via my phone. Then add to that all the billboards I see driving to work and back, the ads on the radio, the ones on the websites I surf through, embedded in emails I receive, etc. I think that phones are still not close to providing that amount of advertising. And few people use their phones for surfing.

But anyway, we broadly agree on the advertising aspect I think anyway.

Now, you mention an “executive using a Blackberry and reading an email’. My main point really is that most people do not have a Blackberry and so on. By ‘people’ I mean all the people in the world, not just people who are fortunate enough (like me) to be able to spend time thinking and writing about this kind of thing.

But you have a good point; it is getting more common for people to access email via PDAs, and also for people to access the internet via a mobile phone plugged into the laptop - I'm not sure whether the latter would qualify... Also more people updating blogs with phones. It all points to convergence I suppose.

But lets look at the specifics. "Most of the Messages" is the category most obviously totally true already. There are 1.4 billion email mailboxes, but only 800 million active email users in the world in 2007. Contrast that with 2 billion active users of SMS text messaging. An increasing portion of internet email goes now through mobile phones whether PDA style devices like the Blackberry and Nokia Communicator series or iPhone, or the more traditional smartphones used to access the internet. Two thirds of all internet users worldwide use the internet on their phones at least part of the time; and one third of all internet users have the phone as their only internet access device. The majority of all internet access now comes from phones in many countries such as Japan, South Korea, India etc.

So for messaging the prediction was totally spot-on.

I agree with the SMS probably being the most common type of message received and sent, and I stand corrected. But your argument assumes that because there are less active email accounts than users of SMS, more SMS are sent, whereas one email account could send many emails. Especially when one considers that SMS cost something while emails don’t. You also fail to consider Instant Messaging which is used a lot. So your argument isn’t really iron-clad, though I’d guess you are probably right.
By the way, I’d be interested to know where you got the statistics from, if you don’t mind.

Then lets take music. In 2006 already more musicphones were sold than iPods. musicphones outsold iPods at a ratio of 6 to 1. Today in China alone, more people consume music on phones, than all iPods ever sold worldwide (many of which are replacement iPods, so the total user base is much less than the total shipments since 2001)

For music the prediction is also true today.

Well not all music is listened to on iPods, there are many other mp3 players. Also, once again – radio, television are important for music; and let’s not forget all the clubs, bars, and live venues out there. I do agree that personal music players and phones will eventually pretty much converge completely though.

If in two years, out of four predictions for "a couple of years" are true, the guy is pretty accurate in my book.

Now, the remaining two items, information and advertising. Information is shifting to mobile, but more slowly than entertainment. Still some services, even in total backwaters of mobile telecoms, such as the USA, have seen that for example weather websites have more traffic on their mobile sites than their internet sites already. This is a gradual trend, will take probably a couple more years to get there.

Objectively, we share information in an uncountable numbers of ways. Through the clothes we wear, the car we drive, etc., and not least of course through good old face-to-face speech :-) I’d like to think that the major way in which people get information is via schools to be honest :-)
‘Information’ here seems to mean stuff like news, weather forecasts, traffic information, etc. Which will come more via phones I suppose. But in the meantime newspapers are still going strong, and not likely to die out for a while yet.

And as to advertising. Certainly most advertising is not on phones (yet) but it increasingly will get there. Admob alone serves over 2.5 billion mobile ads per month. Specialist companies like Blyk in the UK are entering the space with fully ad-sponsored free calls and messages on their telecoms service. Advertising is a major part of the mobile TV experiences in South Korea and Japan - where 30% of all mobile phone owners in Korea and 20% of all in Japan had started to watch digital TV broadcasts to their mobile phones last year.

OK – I talked about advertising above. Agreed it will become more significant on phones, but still many other media will be very important.

The transition is happening. I do think the quotation was significantly more true than not, even with the very short time span you allowed it, by defining couple of years as 2 years.

I obviously didn’t express myself properly but actually my basic point is that the CEO in question is talking about a small proportion of the world’s population. When he says “you share… you read… you send… you listen to…” he’s talking to a small audience really, but implying that it’s everybody. It’s an attitude which annoys me because I find it inaccurate and arrogant. In a world where billions struggle to get enough food and a basic education, such attitudes only reinforce cultural introversion.

I think for your criticism of over-hyping the mobile opportunity, perhaps in this case, that was not quite justified?

I do agree that mobile communication will eventually come to predominate, though I think my criticism of that quote was mostly justified.
In spite of what I've implied above about mobile phones for rich people etc, I do see mobile telephony becoming a great boon for many people in developing countries - helping people to inform themselves about markets opportunities, network, etc.
I’d like to add that focusing on ‘cell phones’ is perhaps a little off the target, as what is likely to happen is a convergence of phones, televisions, music players, computers, etc. into a high powered portable personal computerised media device – i.e. a really cool PDA that can also communicate with a higher powered computer at the home/office, if needed. So it won’t really be called a ‘cell phone’ any more, but maybe that’s splitting hairs.

Thank you

You’re welcome, and thanks for reminding that some people might actually respond to what I say on my blog! :-D

Tomi Ahonen :-)
5-time bestselling author on mobile
Lecturing at Oxford University on mobile

julian on :

Hi Ahonen, I responded to your comment by inserting answers into your original text - see above

Dangerous Variable on :

I think it is a play with words with what I interpret from reading with Ahonen.

Predictions are just self fulfilling prophecy by people who has read the predictions before. Some might come true and some are harder.

Anyways, I think it is hard to define the changes what the different types of media brings. It all depends whether you are a technophobe or a technophile, the different scenarios of change will vary.

julian on :

Yes, often the predictions made by leading figures, and then amplified by the media, consultants, etc. can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies - but I think they do often tend to fall flat if the underlying material conditions are not there.
For example the whole dotcom business. The main model was generating advertising revenue, and one can point to Google now as an example of the viability of that model. But at the time there was just too many people with limited ideas and technologies, running after too little consumers.
Change is inevitable, but it depends on more than just the possibilities afforded by the technologies.

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