Tweens and teens have long marched to the beat of their own drums. But currently, those tunes are more than likely emanating from a mobile device. In fact, last year Pew Research found that 78% of US teens own a cell phone, and 25% of those aged 12 to 17 consider themselves “cell-mostly” internet users.
It’s figure like these—and his 20-plus years in the music industry—that led former Britney Spears producer Eric Foster White to launch Denver, Colorado-based ShowMobile, a new COPPA-compliant mobile platform that aggregates exclusive music-themed content and social media activity in one centralized hub. The app’s potential rests in rich advertising opportunities, as well as collaborations with influential stars like YouTube phenomenon Austin Mahone.
But ShowMobile—especially if it carves out a new niche—is as much a sign of how entertainment execs are adapting to where kids are, as opposed to re-directing them to traditional mediums.
“Media companies are using tools to drive this young generation back to experiences that they’ve already abandoned. We saw that they are constantly checking Facebook, Twitter and YouTube clips, so we decided to create a scripted show that’s constantly updated online,” says White of ShowMobile’s inaugural series, HitStreak. “If you are going to tell a story across the portals kids use, you need tech to centralize it. They aren’t going to chase you across different platforms. So that’s the genesis behind our tech.”
So far, this approach has struck a chord with its intended mobile demo of tweens and teens, as the app has garnered close to 42 million video views on YouTube, four million in-app episodic views and two million social engagements since launching last October.
The original made-for-mobile family series HitStreak follows the lives of four aspiring teenage singers in Miami working to make their dreams of becoming pop sensations a reality, one that is steeped in real time.
The series pulls together different social media activities into one channel that features a six-minute episode of traditional video every week, which is accompanied by scripted social networking on the part of the cast. For example, when a cast member is texting, his or her messages pop up on fans’ mobile screens (via a proprietary video-to-text function), and three or more times a day, a cast member will engage in a social element such as posting a picture or video on Instagram that furthers the storyline.
“We call those an Instasode,” says White. “And the next morning, fans will check their phones right away and find a Facebook status update from a character. That afternoon, two cast members could text one another and fans will receive their ‘private’ messages.”
ShowMobile’s second channel came courtesy of pop star Austin Mahone, who launched his branded channel on the app in May with the intention of aggregating all of his social media activity in one place.
It’s a sensible collaboration, given that the 18-year-old’s popularity is rooted in the world of social media, having received public notice as a YouTube star à la Justin Bieber back in 2011. To date, he’s enlisted more than a million YouTube subscribers and more than six million Twitter followers.
Mahone’s presence on the new ShowMobile channel will allow his fans to earn ShowMobile stars, which can be used to buy virtual goods and to qualify for and win fan experiences and prizes. Plus, fans who download the ShowMobile app will get a first glimpse of the exclusive content contained on the Austin Mahone channel.
In partnerships like these, ShowMobile will share revenue for virtual goods and in-app advertising. And the company is already benefiting from its association with the superstar, who drove 40,000 new users to the app in the partnership’s first 10 days.
Aside from gaining users, ShowMobile’s other main focus is branded advertising. The texting component of the app has positive implications for advertisers that can offer discounted coupons directly via the phones of their target demographic.
“That’s a huge ad unit for the right advertiser that can target gender, too. They can leave mobile coupons in users’ text feeds, and then we can use analytics to gauge interaction,” says White. “Virtual goods—which form a multi-billion-dollar annual industry—are also a huge driver of activity on the app.”
To be sure, the platform can’t store personal information about anyone under the age of 13, as White points out that it was his goal to meet all COPPA guidelines without any shade of doubt. It’s a necessity, given that roughly 80% of the ShowMobile app’s users are under 18 (76% of users are female).
“This is the pot-of-gold demo,” he says. “Everyone wants to reach these kids in authentic ways.”
White says the American Idol-like potential of a series like HitStreak is also keeping momentum alive at the young company, which intends to sign performers, including full bands, and delve further into music-based publishing.
“We didn’t build ShowMobile to ease the universal music industry pain. If you told people 10 years ago that Justin Bieber or Austin Mahone would exist—kids who made their careers on their own—they’d think you were crazy,” says White. “Now, you don’t necessarily have to be the best, but you have to have a social media appeal or a value proposition. And the old gatekeepers are playing catch-up.”
Beyond music, ShowMobile intends to step foot inside fashion, beauty and gaming content, with the goal of creating a full mobile multi-channel network by this fall.