Here’s an incident that highlights one of the bigger problems in mobile content services today: pricing. In June, Disney (NYSE: DIS) in the UK was given a dressing down by UK regulators for how it promoted a mobile game connected with the movie Cars, and another for a “3’n’1 puzzle pack.” Although the games’ advertising noted that “standard text charges apply,” in fact people who downloaded them were charged 5 pounds ($10) by their mobile operator — not for the game itself but for the data charges to send it. Disney has passed the buck, claiming it believed operators would send a text to users clarifying how they would be charged. Still, the company has modified its marketing around mobile content as a result.
Apparently there have been a number of customer complaints over unclear data pricing for mobile content. Now, the communications regulator Ofcom and Icstis, the regulator in charge of premium-rate services (also heavily involved in the fines and regulation around those phone-in/text TV scandals), are considering how to enforce greater clarity over how data charges work. “There is total confusion for customers about how much content will cost on mobiles. And the networks are at loggerheads over which way to go,” said one source quoted in the Mail on Sunday. Although it’s unlikely that the regulators will force operators to move to any specific kind of charging regime such as flat-rate data charges (a la fixed broadband), it is probable that further requirements on how to make data charges clearer — and fines for those who do not — may force the operators and content companies to think about simpler ways of offering and charging mobile content, if only to avoid all that red tape.