The ‘Mobile-First’ Fallacy
Google first adopted the “mobile-first” mantra back in 2010. Facebook promptly followed suit. Now, it seems any company with a mobile audience is shouting about its “mobile-first” focus when it does little more than redesign its iPhone app.
It remains unclear what the term actually means, if anything. Publishers and marketers aren’t cutting back their investment in desktop experiences. Ad sales teams aren’t putting their desktop sales efforts on the back burner to chase mobile ads.
Instead, “mobile first” seems ready to join “the cloud,” “platform” and “HTML5” as tech terms that at one point meant something until they were co-opted as little more than a marketing gimmick.
What publishers usually mean by “mobile first” is that they’re catering to mobile audiences. Sure, those audiences are growing, but until the majority of their traffic — and, more importantly, their revenue — comes from that channel, the idea of prioritizing mobile is a foolish one in practice. Making a good experience on mobile and tablet is pretty much the price of entry nowadays, not something that is optional.
All too often, however, mobile is still an afterthought. Agencies and publishers love talking about their focus on mobile at industry conferences and in the press, but the reality of the situation is that the mobile channel continues to make up a tiny portion of their activities. Until audiences scale and issues around things like tracking and targeting improve, that’s not going to change.
“I’ve been hearing people say this for a couple of years now, and it’s no more than a buzzphrase, at best,” argued Geoff Cubitt, CEO of digital agency Roundarch Isobar. “Mobile is certainly important, and its importance continues to grow, but I roll my eyes when I hear people say they’re ‘mobile first.’ They’re just doing so because they think it sounds cool, but in most cases, it doesn’t really make sense, or they don’t know what they’re talking about.”
As Cubitt points out, the vast majority of publishers, platforms and marketers still receive most of their audience from desktop devices. “It’s about thinking multichannel, not mobile,” he added. “Even if mobile is a big part of your business, it’s probably not the majority, so the idea of ‘mobile first’ is often just a goofy one.”
Of course, a mobile-first attitude makes sense for some publishers more than others. The Weather Channel, for example, says it continues to see overwhelming audience growth on cellphones and tablets and is investing heavily in the channel as a result.
But even The Weather Channel doesn’t like to think of itself as “mobile first,” according to CEO Curt Hecht. Its cable TV business remains more lucrative than its apps and mobile websites, and even in digital specifically, it generates more revenue from its desktop products.
“We’re seeing a lot of growth in mobile, and it’s extremely important to the company, but we don’t say ‘mobile first,”‘ said Hecht. “I think you hear a lot of marketers and other folks saying it because of the buzz around mobile, but for us, it’s a priority alongside others.
Even Google, which went gung-ho on “mobile first” back in 2010, still generates the vast majority of its income from desktop devices. Mobile might be an important focus in the development of its new products, but the idea that everything else now takes a backseat is a fallacy.
That’ll change over time, of course. Hecht suggests TWC could see more revenue from mobile and tablet devices than desktop ones “within a couple of years,” at which point a mobile-first approach will clearly makes sense. Similarly, it seems obvious at this juncture that desktop computers as we know them are on the decline as users switch to tablets and other touchscreen devices. At some point, revenue from those will surpass revenue generated from desktops.
But we’re not there yet, and the concept of “mobile first” is being used prematurely by many in digital media. The over-referenced Wayne Gretzky analogy of “skating to where the puck is going to be” makes complete sense when describing digital companies’ efforts to future-proof their businesses. But let’s not forget you still have to do the skating.
How NBC’s News Group is shaping NBCUniversal’s commerce bets
The nearly 50-person group now oversees two shopping shows, commerce sub-brands across three NBC News properties and direct deal-making for a growing list of sister brands.
Member ExclusiveMedia Briefing: How publishers with teen audiences are making their Instagram presences more inclusive
In this week's Media Briefing, media reporter Sara Guaglione reports on what Bustle and Teen Vogue are doing to make sure their Instagram accounts don't contribute to the platform's reported negative impact on teen girls' wellbeing.
‘Levers being pulled that are unseen’: Measurement errors inside Amazon’s OSP program setting publishers on edge
A series of reporting errors has become emblematic of a program that has grown increasingly frustrating for its participants over the past year.
SponsoredHow publishers can future-proof their contextual advertising strategy
Sal Cacciato, managing director, North America, video intelligence The discourse on contextual targeting has moved from “if” to “how.” Publishers are well aware that they need to be packaging their audiences in ways that enable contextual targeting, but many are still asking themselves what is the best way to achieve that goal. In a telling […]
Axios has made $1M in revenue from its eight-month-old software licensing business
Less than a year in, Axios HQ is bringing in more revenue than expected, but the challenges of a tech company are different than those of a media company.
Why The Telegraph thinks retiring some newsletters will actually help grow subscriptions
After shuttering a half-dozen newsletters this year and consolidating others, The Telegraph produces over 40 editorial newsletters, eight of which are exclusive to paid subscribers.