I really don’t understand CNN’s mobile web strategy. Their mobile site (mobile.cnn.com) can only be reached from phones on CNN’s network partners! The news network seems to be saying that they’d rather make a quick buck today from carrier deals than build their brand on mobile. This is all the more surprising because the CNN mobile site carries advertising which means lost ad revenue too.
Wikipedia calls CNN the second most watched (after the BBC) TV news source in the world. The network was also one of the first news providers to embrace the web, with the 1995 launch of cnn.com, now the third most popular news site (after Yahoo and the BBC) according to Alexa.
CNN ‘s mobile web site is actually very good, similar in concept to BBC mobile with a focus on hard news but also offering weather, entertainment “news”, stock quotes and a Sports Illustrated section. Until recently CNN Mobile was a text only wml site but now there’s a WAP2 edition spiced up with appropriately sized photos, as well as varied background colors and text formatting. But unless you are one of the “90 million subscribers in 24 countries” whose carriers (listed here) are CNN partners you will get a 403 Forbidden error or this helpful message when you browse to mobile.cnn.com:
We’re sorry but CNN Wireless content is restricted. You may be attempting to access us from an unauthorized mobile service provider, or it could be that your service provider is authorized but has failed to register a new gateway IP with us. In either case please contact your mobile service provider for more information. We regret the inconvenience.
That 90 million potential users is not a big number in the mobile universe representing less than 4% of the world’s 2.5 billion mobile phone users. Why on earth would CNN want to lock out so many eyeballs? CNN has no deals with any carriers in a number of English speaking countries with large numbers of mobile users including India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Kenya. In spite of having a Spanish edition, CNN is not available on any South American carriers. Even in the US, users on Alltel, US Cellular and other regional carriers are blocked from accessing CNN. In addition, you can’t get to CNN Mobile if you are using a proxy based browser like Opera Mini or Palm browsers Xiino or WebPro, regardless of who your carrier is.
There is a way to access some of the stories from CNN with a phone on an “unauthorized provider”. Unified Mobility has a “demo” of CNN Mobile News at 188.8.131.52/mobile.php?UMPG=index with most of CNN’s top news stories. But that’s one inconvenient url and the Unified Mobility demo is missing CNN’s images as well as the sports, weather and stock quotes sections of the real CNN mobile.
In the wasteland of US TV news broadcasting, CNN markets itself rather successfully as an impartial, open, transparent, globally aware source of news. Why on earth do they follow such an archaic mobile marketing model – tied to walled gardens and carrier deals. The fixed internet began with similar restrictive telco based access to ISP portals and evolved to today’s rather open web were content providers vie for traffic mainly on content and buzz. It seems obvious that the mobile web is gradually moving to a similar open model. CNN has the content to compete in the open market – why do they restrict themselves to 4%?