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Cox Gains Wider ReachWith MMS in Mobile Mix

With mobile video usage skyrocketing, TV stations and programmers have been focusing enormous attention on new apps that can drive viewers to their news and content. But as those mobile efforts expand, a growing number of stations are also looking at additional mobile delivery content platforms, such as MMS (multimedia messaging service), to reach a larger audience.

The Cox Media Group already has launched dozens of apps for its television, radio and newspaper properties and is expecting to offer as many as 100 apps by year-end, reports Melissa Patterson, mobile manager at CMG’s Digital & Strategy unit.

But as part of its push to expand mobile operations, CMG has also begun offering MMS products at several of its television stations. Cox’s Fox affiliate KTVU, which serves the San Francisco Bay Area, has launched a “Morning Wake-Up Call” featuring a news summary and brief weather forecast via MMS. The group’s Reno, Nev., Fox affiliate, KRXI, uses MMS to send out weather forecasts.

The project is in its earliest stages and data is relatively limited, but viewers seem to be embracing the idea. Patterson notes that MMS weather alerts from Cox’s NBC affiliate WPXI in Pittsburgh “have been extremely popular and have added several thousand users in less than a month.”

One major reason for adding MMS to a company’s mix of mobile offerings is the reach of MMS campaigns versus apps, which generally require a user to own a smartphone. Nielsen data shows that smartphone penetration in the U.S. ! nally pushed above the halfway mark to 50.4% of U.S. mobile subscribers in March 2012.

But the potential reach for many apps is smaller than that because the cost of developing apps for multiple platforms has caused many companies to focus on Apple’s iPhone and iPad, which comprise a much smaller universe. In March, Apple’s iPhone had a 32% share of all smartphones, which means that an app targeting purely the Apple iOS platform would reach only 16% of U.S. mobile users.

In contrast, Scott Rogers, VP of sales and brand solutions at Mogreet, which is providing Cox with the technology for sending the MMS alerts, says that “we can get video images and image messages to almost 98% of all cellphones via our MMS platform.”

While MMS offers the same larger reach as the much older SMS (short message service) platform, it has a much wider range of capabilities. Unlike a traditional SMS message, which is limited to 160 characters of text, MMS can accomodate short videos, photos and much more text, giving the medium greater appeal for both users and advertisers.

“Stations have been frustrated in the area of trying to sell SMS sponsorships,” says Keith Samuels, vice president of sales for broadcast media at Mogreet. Samuels notes that the ability to better monetize MMS messages with pre- or post-roll video ads in the MMS messages was one of the reasons Cox has embraced the technology.

“The use of video news or weather summaries is a much better way to engage viewers, and sponsors see it as a much more elegant way to extend their brand into a mobile device,” Samuels adds.

While the Cox MMS efforts are still relatively new, Patterson notes that the stations have “continued to see sponsorships ramping up” on a local level. She says Cox is exploring the possibility of doing some national sales.

Cox has also been heavily using the MMS campaigns to promote live feeds of its local newscasts and other content on TV or on mobile devices. The KTVU Morning Wake-Up Call campaign, for example, includes reminders that the live newscast is on TV and provides a link that will allow viewers to watch the live stream on their mobile phone. “If they get an MMS message when they are waking up and sitting on the couch, it is a great way to get them to tune into the newscast,” Patterson says.

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