Growth of MVNOs making 'third screen' more targeted

The marketing slang for mobile phones is a misnomer.

The marketing slang for mobile phones is a misnomer.

While people talk about the "third screen," recent industry changes have made it clear that there are also fourth, fifth, and so-on screens. As mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) continue to launch with focuses on very specific niches, the phone market is becoming much more fragmented and demo- and psychographic-specific.

Content companies, such as ESPN and Disney, have announced or launched MVNOs, and new companies Amp'd Mobile and Helio have launched to service young music fans and the young tech-savvy, respectively. MVNOs lease network time and bandwidth from the large carriers (in ESPN's case, Sprint) and rebrand them while providing original content or partnering with content producers. The brand, such as ESPN, handles all sales, customer service, and systems.

Rebecca Gertsmark, manager of ESPN communications, says PR pros must understand MVNOs because they provide opportunities for pitching content.

For example, Mobile ESPN has a studio where it edits highlights specifically for its mobile services.

"The third screen is a big story," Gertsmark says. "In general, there's no room for PR people to be behind the tech curve at all."

In addition, Gertsmark notes that a company or client may one day wish to launch its own service, and PR pros will need to know the competitive landscape.

"When it comes to wireless and MVNOs, the onus is on the PR professional to be educated, learn the acronyms, and understand the industry jargon," she notes, adding that she spends much of her time educating reporters.

Noting that ESPN has a publishing platform serving other carriers, Gertsmark says that not all consumers will necessarily pick a phone service that focuses on a particular niche. But there is a market demand for phones targeting a very specific niche like shopping, music, or sports.

"With almost 200 million US wireless customers, people are more comfortable with mobile and now have a chance to tailor wireless to their needs," she says.

Key points:

MVNOs often offer exclusive content, which gives PR pros another avenue to pitch news and content

Brands like Disney and ESPN have jumped into the MVNO marketplace, and others may follow suit

MVNOs often target specific audiences, like sports enthusiasts or music fans

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