Nokia's next conquest

John Walton
Cell Phone Editor
| Published: August 28, 2009

While T-Mobile is making commercials with celebrities like Catherine Zeta-Jones, Whoopi Goldberg, Phil Jackson and Jesse James in a quest for their own PR makeover, Nokia is hiring stars and creative types for behind-the-scenes work; like consulting.

In the September, 2009 issue of Fast Company, Mark Borden writes about Nokia's executive vice president of entertainment and communities, Tero Ojanperä, describing him as a cross between an Andy Warhol mystic and a James Bond villain. Borden focuses on Mr. Ojanperä because he is the man who wants to turn Nokia into a media monster. (cont.)

Ojanperä: spearheading Nokia's foray into the music biz

The context of the article is a gala in Tribeca, NYC, where music industry big wigs from Warner, Universal, And the Beatles' Apple Corps are being wined and dined by the extremely popular cell phone manufacturer. But as Borden reminds us, popular may not be an appropriate term to describe Nokia's astounding and enviable position in the mobile game.

The dapper Ojanperä begins to address the music biz elite by holding up an advertisement from the Finnish company's early days: "A tire you can trust... from Nokia," it reads. Drawing the audience back from laughter, he casually strolls through some of Nokia's more impressive hash marks.

Nokia sold 472 million cell phones last year. They generated $70 billion in revenue and $7 billion in profit. They have over 1.1 billion customers, sell products in more than 150 countries, and employ an operating system that has been translated into over 180 languages. Simply stated, Nokia is the number one cell phone company in the world. They produce 13 handsets per second.

Transitioning through a brief description of Nokia's Comes With Music Service - a delivery system for over 6 million songs that can be kept for life and are bundled with the cost of some Nokia devices - Ojanperä says that by directly combating non-consumption and piracy, Nokia is revolutionizing the way music is being consumed. Borden observes eyes rolling in the crowd.

The speaker continues, "...we will quickly be the world's biggest entertainment media network." This, of course, is met with scoffs and disbelief by execs who have heard every plan under the Sun for rescucitating the consolodated mass of what used to be record companies. But Ojanperä resonds, "You can laugh and say, 'What is the point? Nokia is a cell-phone company; it will never get into the entertainment business.' That's okay. That's what people did when we said we were going to be the biggest cell-phone company in the wolrd - back when we were making car tires and rubber boots."

It's tempting to dismiss the EVP's grandiose claims. When Nokia's CEO, Olii-Pekka Kallasvuo, spoke about putting the Internet in our pockets in 2001, little was done to bring the dream to fruition. Making an Internet-capable phone in 1996 and announcing Ovi two years before launch seem almost like publicity stunts in hindsight. But to fixate on dreams deferred would be to ignore remarkable accomplishments. To wit, the stats above. But we (should I say, "I?") tend to overlook the importance of Nokia in the American market. 

Here in the U.S., Nokia has only a 7% market share. And while the giant is a lifeline to litteraly hundreds of millions in poverty, it's easy for the more prosperous populations to fall into ethnocentric perspectives. We want countless apps to choose from at a low cost, we want the best music cheap or for nothing, and we want thousands of entertaining videos on demand. But Nokia has a different take: a global one. 

For example, Nokia provides a service for $1.30 a month in India called Life Tools, which provides farmers with weather and agricultural data. This is one example, but Ojanperä could offer many more. And when a company can move technology to 400 million users as rapidly as Nokia can, every dollar means serious business. Nokia defines the term, Big Leagues. Now with that scale in mind, reconsider Nokia's successes, and their future plans. Maybe "music giant" isn't off the table.

At CES 2006, Tero Ojanperä met Dave Stewart, the founder of the Eurythmics - a man who had Bono and Elton john sing at his wedding; a man who has recorded with Tom Petty; a guy who spends free time hanging out on Paul Allen's boat, the Octopus. Tero and Dave connected, became friends, and set out on a mission to revolutionize the entertainment industry. While not a W-2 employee, Stewart now holds the über-hip title, change agent. As image-friendly as it may sound, this not a publicity stunt.

Stewart is currently working with Polyglot Canadian singer, Cindy Gomez, whose career is launching simultaneously via a mobile application called Dance Fabulous, Nokia's online Music Store, the Comes with Music product, and a Nokia-backed European tour. Clearly, it's an all-out affair. (cont.)

Gomez: appearing in a video game near you

Multi-pronged is Dave's personal method of choice as well. While working on Nokia's image, relationships, artist involvement, and content, he's putting together a musical supergroup on the sly. With artists as diverse as Mick Jagger and Joss Stone, it should be an interesting project from the man whose back yard was the birthplace of the Traveling Willburys. And Who do you think is first in line for concert promotions, advertizing agreements, and most likely publishing rights? Nokia. (cont.)

Stewart: sweet dreams are made of this.

I haven't personally owned a Nokia device since a $20-on-contract deal in 2005. Before that, my only Nokia experience was the faux-wood, green-LED-sporting brick from '95 or '96 that followed my first and only pager. I've always thought of Nokia phones as the tight budget option (clearly, I haven't been looking very closely in recent times), and this prejudice has prevented me from giving them much of a chance. Well, that and horrible mistakes like the N97. But I'm interested in this new direction, and will try to meet Nokia with open arms from now on.

Nokia comes from the same land as Linux, and I'm intrigued by their employment of Maemo and investment in oFono. I'm anxious to try out some of their Linux-based offerings. Let's just hope they get on top of a dedicated touch screen UI, and that this whole media leader business comes together faster and with more backing than the "Internet in your pocket."

Read Mark Borden's article here.