SMS.ac joins race to offer user-generated mobile content

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LAS VEGAS-SMS.ac Inc. is joining the stampede toward user-generated mobile content.

The San Diego-based messaging company unveiled its Content Monitor software offering designed to allow users to publish and monetize their own content. Members can create blogs, video clips or music and set a price at which to offer the content to other users with the technology, dubbed xPML.

“You’ll notice a majority of people at the conference have this awesome content, and that includes all the major brands, but they don’t have any way to distribute it, and they don’t really have any way to pay for it,” said Greg Wilfahrt, executive vice president of SMS.ac. “Through xPML, your content can be mobilized and monetized within 24 hours to a global audience.”

SMS.ac has gained substantial traction in mobile messaging, boasting a network of 50 million users in 180 countries. The company has gained national attention by building clubs of like-minded wireless users who exchange messages on topics ranging from entertainment to politics to infidelity, garnering ink from the New York Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.

Wireless subscribers can use the platform to create home pages and sell music, video and other offerings through storefronts on the Internet and wireless Web through both subscription and a la carte models. Content providers must sign on to a “Consumer Bill of Rights,” a document released by SMS.ac last year that addresses pricing models and other consumer issues.

Chief Executive Officer Michael Pousti said such guidelines are urgently needed in the mobile-content space. “This industry is heading for implosion; the reason for that is that consumers are getting jaded” by confusing subscription services and low-quality offerings, Pousti said. “By content providers signing up (for Content Monitor), we will give them access to our 50 million users.”

Some would say SMS.ac has contributed to consumers’ confusion, however. Critics have accused the company of using deceptive pricing models, sending unwanted messages to nonsubscribers and fraudulently sparking text-message conversations in an attempt to generate revenues. Earlier this year, SMS.ac filed a cease-and-desist order against a blogger who described the company as a “total scam.”

The new publishing software will be available free to members of SMS.ac; the company plans to share revenue with content providers that sell their wares to others. It is interoperable with Java, BREW and other mobile technologies, and will allow musicians and others to publish and distribute their wares in a cost-effective manner. “This spells the beginning of the end of the record companies,” boasted Pousti.

A handful of wireless players are drawing inspiration from the Internet, where user-generated content has exploded into a multimillion-dollar market. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. last year agreed to pay $580 million to acquire MySpace, a youth-targeted site where users create profiles and build communities. Other popular user-generated sites include YouTube, Flickr and Facebook. Several pure-play mobile companies have joined the playground, including Intercasting Corp. and Juice Wireless Inc. And some PC-based players like Break.com are working to expand their reach, hoping to get fans to log in from their handsets when not at their desks.

Even Fox Mobile Entertainment is looking into user-generated content, President Lucy Hood said earlier this week, hoping to provide a place where a wireless subscriber “can find his or her digital tribe.”

While it may be a newcomer to the field, though, SMS.ac could have a substantial advantage over its competitors, noted Dana Thorat, research manager for mobility metrics at IDC. Not only do they have millions of members, they have billing relationships in place with hundreds of carriers around the world.

“I think I want to take some of the vapor out of the air from some of the guys invading the space; big boys like Google [Inc.], Yahoo [Inc.] and Microsoft [Corp.],” said Wilfahrt. “There are certain components that have to happen, and without them you can’t succeed. They have to have the carrier relationships, and they’re trying really hard to get them, but carriers are resisting for the most part.”

 

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