South Africa's Zoopy mobisite is a first of its kind – a mobile video tabloid that features the best of international and local infotainment. Or as their slogan promises: “The world in 90 seconds”.

Andy Stead

Analysts predict that mobile is set to be the focus of the most radical developments in media and technology over the next decade. Mocom 2020, an international worldwide internet-based open think tank about mobile media, predicts that in 2020 mobile media will have radically transformed the economy and our daily lives in ways unimaginable in an earlier age. “Media as we know it has ceased to exist,” says a post on the group’s website. “Mobile has turned the world in to a global information hub and has opened radically new business opportunities. The 21st century has encapsulated the power of the information age.”

This prediction is remarkable when one considers the already rapid growth of mobile phones, which arguably has its roots in the 1906 registration of the first US patent for a wireless phone in 1906. But it was only in 1973 that Martin Cooper, a Motorola researcher and executive, made the first analogue mobile phone call using an extremely large and clunky prototype model.

The next landmark was the launch of the Blackberry in 1999, which introduced the era of mobile email. Bandwidth is essential, and in 2001 3G, or third-generation connectivity, was launched, and in 2007 Apple’s iPhone made its mark. Today, many of 600-million people using Facebook and 200-million Twitter users keep in touch with their friends and followers via mobile.

So where to from here? According to Mocom 2020, the future of mobile is something like this:

In 2013 mobile broadband of around 50 MB per user will be available. In 2014 emerging-market countries such as Africa and India will achieve a 70% penetration rate, and 2015 will see the introduction of a nanotechnology-based physical personal device.

In 2016 the much-anticipated end of print media in the developed world will be signalled by the New York Times ending delivery of printed papers. News will henceforth be read on a plastic screen, with updates on the go. Next will come multi-language automatic translation.

In 2020 the world of mobile media will be “disruptive, engaging interactive and controversial, but truly international”, according to Mocom 2020. But the question is, will this apply to South Africa?

Local company Zoopy, a multimedia online sharing community, certainly believe that 2011 is the year of the mobile phone. The company recently took a big turn, abandoning its user-generated content model and morphing into a mobile video site. Zoopy's CEO, Jason Elk, notes the rise of mobile usage in Africa - and the rise in popularity of mobile video specifically as well as the increasing traffic toward professional content, away from overwhelming spam. For now Zoopy's focus is on South Africa, but the service is available globally.

“Nowhere is growth truer than in South Africa,” says Elk. “We have a mobile penetration rate of about 98%, and over 20-million South Africans own web-capable phones, which serve as their primary point of contact with the internet. For most of these users, who don’t have access to TV, DVDs or other gadgets, it’s also their only access to the entertainment world at large. Their phones deliver an interconnected choice of games, social networks and video. And as feature phones expire and smartphones replace them, mobile entertainment is fast becoming the industry’s leading growth area.”

Mobile video specifically is on an exponential rise. Video traffic from mobile phones increased by 60% globally in 2010, with just one example being 100-million YouTube videos served to mobile devices every day. A recent Nielsen report showed that 20.3-million people watched mobile video in the US in the first quarter of 2010, with an average watching time of three-and-a-half-hours.

As far as file size, cost and video quality are concerned, the future is bright. As mobile network operators move to 4G, entry-level speeds will be redefined and users at the top end will enjoy super-fast internet. As data use increases, costs will naturally come down, as already happened locally in 2010. And as for video formats across multiple platforms, the current de facto lower-end handset video format of 3G will eventually make way for better-quality video that mp4 is already delivering to higher-end devices.

Add to the mix the wildfire dispersion of video via social media platforms, and the always-on nature of mobile, and it’s clear that the concept of “video everywhere” is a growing reality.

“Until now, we’ve been an online platform first and a mobile service second,” says Elk. “We’re turning this on its head and positioning Zoopy as a mobile video platform, with a mobi site, apps for the major platforms, and a website.

“We’ve focused on offering our users two core, and quite diverse, services: user-generated content sharing, and Zoopy TV, with made-for-web video stories ranging from news and movie reviews to fashion and games. We’ve made the decision to focus our business on one of these areas only; an area that is unique, poised for growth and more monetisable: creating quick, light, informative and entertaining mobile video – video that can be watched on the bus home, over lunch at work or while out with your friends.”

The new Zoopy is a first of its kind – a mobile video tabloid that features the best of international and local infotainment. Or as their slogan promises: “The world in 90 seconds”. They have created a fresh look at the news and events of the day, in an entertaining format that makes it fun to catch up with what’s going on in the world.

“Removing user-generated content from Zoopy has been a difficult but healthy decision,” says Elk. “Monetising other people’s content has been notoriously difficult for major players across the globe. As a platform, you’re always juggling content ownership and flexibility on the one side, and hosting and delivery costs and revenue opportunities on the other.

“Because the content is owned by the user, you’re not always completely free to package, edit or structure it in ways that are revenue-friendly, or change your strategy very quickly if a better idea comes along. You’re also swamped with spam, offensive content and enormous quantities of low-quality uploads that very quickly start to dilute the viewing experience for the visitor.

“The numbers have proven the value that users place in quality content, as we’ve seen Zoopy visitors gravitate more and more towards Zoopy TV videos, away from user-generated content.”

Rather than trying to grow Zoopy in the user-generated and mobile video infotainment spaces simultaneously, Elk says it makes more sense for them to focus their energies, resources and future on the part of the business they can do so much more with, by producing and growing their own content.

“Ultimately this move will benefit our users,” he says. “Our past and current users will have a clear reason to come back to Zoopy. Our potential users will have a clear understanding of what Zoopy’s about, and our new users signing up will meet a Zoopy platform with a clear promise that’s delivered on with relentless focus from day one.”

In the end, 2011 is likely to be the year remembered for mobile’s coming of age, the year the mobile web in South Africa delivers more than 150-million mobile ad impressions each month, with faster speeds and greater web access, and the year mobile video infotainment became a reality for anyone with a mobile phone and 90 seconds to spare.