OnDeck Versus Off Deck Web Advertising

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The experience between on- and off-deck Web access is becoming very similar, but on- and off-deck mobile Web access are still fundamentally different. As discussed in previous chapters, on-deck Web access is Web access that the carrier provides though a branded portal, sometimes called a WAP deck. Marguerite Reardon, a staff writer at CNET News, explains the unique business model for on-deck Web access quite well:

Most mobile operators offer subscribers a menu or "deck" filled with the carriers' own content that has been supplied through deals they have made with news organizations, record labels, TV networks and other content producers. Carriers generate revenue by charging for subscriptions to packages or premium content. They also get a cut of revenue when users download content from their decks.

Off-deck Web access is access to the Web-at-large through a mobile browser that the carriers do not control. To be included on a carrier deck, you have to work with a carrier or one of its agencies; to be included in the off-deck mobile Web, all you need is a website that a mobile browser can access.

Carrier decks are limited versions of the mobile Web that the carriers have created for their subscribers. In the on-deck world, each carrier has different advertising guidelines and brokers deals with individual content providers. The content or proceedings of these agreements are rarely made public. That being said, it is nearly impossible to summarize or even postulate what strategies would be most effective to become syndicated in the various carrier decks.

Even though studies show that more mobile Web traffic is moving off-deck, being listed well on a carrier deck can be an important way for mobile marketers to drive traffic to their mobile offerings. Nisheeth Mohan, product manager for mobile solutions and technology at Keynote Systems, wrote this in 2009:

Nielsen Mobile did a study several years ago in which it reported that "mobile games promoted on a carrier's New, Featured or Best Seller decks saw 90 percent more downloads than when those same games were not promoted. Furthermore, titles that got top shelf placement on the first page of the carrier's deck achieved 53 percent more downloads than when those titles appeared on subsequent pages of the deck." The revenue impact to a content provider is huge.

Note that in 2008, ring tone revenues were projected to be more than $500 million by BMI and mobile gaming was expected to hit $5.4 billion in 2008, according to Jupiter Research.

Clearly, it is worth some time and effort to monitor your carrier deck placement. You also probably know that this isn't easy.

Early knowledge of changes in placement in the deck— both of your content and that of your competitors—can help you with revenue projections, product planning and quality control strategies.

Unfortunately, most monitoring strategies today are pretty rudimentary.

Someone—and probably several people—in your company have to manually go through carrier decks on different phones to check your placement; the process is slow and tedious.

I talked to one deck provider who related a company strategy of mandatory weekend sessions where employees sat with a variety of cell phones and a checklist to confirm their content positions.

Worse, you can't just do it once. Ongoing vigilance is critical to make sure that you are on top of your visibility—and monitoring those games or ringtones that outrank you on a deck.

The methods for ranking products or advertisements in the carrier decks vary from carrier to carrier and have never been made particularly transparent. In some cases, it is mainly a function of the syndication agreement that was created with the content provider. In some other cases, it is based on popularity and social ranking systems, such as star ratings.

Content syndication agreements can also be confusing because, in some cases, content providers make deals directly with the handset manufacturers (instead of carriers) to ensure that their content is accessible to subscribers in all the networks where a particular phone is sold. As an example, Nokia created a service called Media Center on all of the N95 phones. The service included direct links to Sony, News Corp., and CNN for mobile video distribution. This agreement ensured that access to the Media Center was available on any N95 handset, regardless of what carrier sold it.

On-deck advertising has been successful in the past but has a limited life moving into the future, at least in the United States. Few people have deep access or understanding of how best to work with the multiple carriers. On-deck advertising is frequently a complex trial-and-error process that is laden with long negotiations and content exclusivity rights. In the long run, on-deck carrier solutions do not appear to be particularly scalable or desirable. As marketers, it is important to understand that the target demographic ford mobile marketingis alreadyfamiliar with traditional Web access. In the Long term, they will see little value in accessing a limited or filtered version of the Internet that is provided by the carrier deck. In the consumers mind, carriers simply don't have enough resources or expertise to re-create the Internet-at-large on their branded portals.

The content syndication and licensing that is crucial in the on-deck business model blurs the lines for mobile advertising. Some say that advertising includes only text and image ads that are delivered on a CMP or PPC basis; others argue that the syndication and licensing agreements are simply permits to promote or advertise branded content on the carrier deck. The rankings of on-deck mobile content can be seen as advertisings for your mobile products and services, in the same way that traditional search engine listings can be considered advertisements for Web products or services.

Frequently, carriers are reticent to work directly with advertisers because in many cases, it would require them to share statistics about their network that they would rather keep quiet. Generally, carriers and handset manufacturers do not create and maintain their own ad networks or technologies. Instead, they work with existing mobile ad networks EndPocket, AdMob, or ThirdScreen to leverage their ad-serving platforms and inventory. Nokia is the most notable exception, offering advertising through a company called Nokia Media network.

In mobile advertising, carriers have a unique advantage over third-party advertising partners because they can serve ads based on specific demographic information about their users, pulled directly from their customer database. As a response to this, in 2008, many of the third-party advertising partners began offering sophisticated analytics programs to track the success of advertisements on their networks and provide advertisers with as much information as possible about their advertising campaign. Carriers also can offer incentives for viewing advertisements on the mobile phone, such as free minutes or free downloads. Brands that want to do this have to work directly with the carriers.

When determining what ad network you want to work with and what carrier deck you want to show your ads, you should evaluate the traffic and demographic information associated with the carrier. The most recent Web traffic data can be accessed from mobile Web reporting agencies, such as ComScores' m:Metrics or Nielsen Mobile. Table 5.1 shows a 2009 mobile carrier report card for the top seven U.S. mobile carriers. Information such as the number of subscribers or the percent of revenue that data service represents for the carrier should also be available directly from the carriers themselves. However, third-party reporting services should always be used when they are available. Additionally, both carriers and ad-serving networks should be able to provide demographic information about their audience, including age, gender, income, and location.

Table 5.1

2009 Mobile Carrier Report Card


Subscriber Base

Net Adds

Monthly Churn

Service Revenue

Data as a % of Service Revenue

Revenue Per User

Verizon Wireless

86.7 million

1.3 million


$13.1 billion




78.2 million

1.2 million


$11.7 billion



Sprint Nextel

48.1 million



$6.4 billion



T-Mobile USA

33.2 million



$4.8 billion



US Cellular

6.2 million



$982 million




6.1 million



$727 million



Leap Wireless

4.3 million



$514 million



Data courtesy of Strategy Analytics, Inc.

Data courtesy of Strategy Analytics, Inc.

With the popularity of the Apple AppStore, many American carriers, including T-Mobile and Verizon, have begun to rebrand their WAP decks as "app stores" in an attempt to drive more traffic and sales through their on-deck portals (see Table 5.2). For the most part, the rebranded carrier portals still follow the same complicated content syndication systems, which still presents a huge barrier to development and entry into this market, but you can expect to see more similar moves from the carriers in the future. The success of the AppStore and the Android Marketplace can largely be credited to the accessibility that they presented for application developers to submit and promote their own applications.

Table 5.2 On-

and Off-Deck Carriers for Top 7 U.S. Mobile Carriers


Mobile Carrier Deck

On-Deck Mobile Ad Network

Native Off-Deck Search Engine

Verizon Wireless

Mobile Web Games and Apps Store

ThirdScreen Media


AT&T (Except iPhone)

AT&T MEdia Net


Yahoo! oneSearch

AT&T (Just iPhone)

The AppStore






T-Mobile USA

Web2Go (App Store) Web'n'walk (UK)


Yahoo! oneSearch

US Cellular



Metro PCS

Leap Wireless

Cricket's Mobile Web Portal

Data courtesy of Strategy Analytics, Inc.

Data courtesy of Strategy Analytics, Inc.

For more information about the difference between on- and off-deck mobile environments, please reference Chapter 2, "The Brief History of Mobile Marketing."

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Email Marketing Magician

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