How to solve the app discovery problem? Buy an installed base!

Monday this week I was on a panel at DiscoveryBeat 2010, a one-day show devoted to the topic of getting your smartphone app discovered. Speaker after speaker (myself included) delivered the same bad news: the eye of the app distribution needle is getting smaller every day and the deck is now stacked in favor of incumbent brands.

Much like the early days of the Facebook app ecosystem, the developers and publishers who succeeded in amassing millions of downloads – think Tapulous, Smule, Ngmoco, etc. – now control an asset that’s arguably more valuable than their brand or software: a huge installed base that can be leveraged to drag new titles along.

Not coincidentally, several of these brands have recently been snapped up by larger media players who see the value in these incumbent mobile audiences. Disney has been one of the most active acquirers, picking up Tapulous for a rumored $40-$50 million, and Playdom (a leading Facebook gaming brand) for $760 million. Last week Japan’s DeNA paid $400 million for Ngmoco, another leading iPhone game publisher.

The Android app ecosystem offered one of the few discovery bright spots at the show – the relative immaturity of Android as compared to iPhone, the weakness of Google’s Android Market and resulting profusion of competing app store alternatives are creating points of leverage for savvy app publishers seeking to build the same powerful franchises that were created in the early days of the iPhone.

The best single example of this was app-maker Chillingo’s decision to offer their popular Angry Birds game to Android users via a one-day free download exclusively with GetJar, a top feature-phone app distributor looking to make inroads with Android developers. The combined power of a popular game, a time-limited offer and free distribution brought GetJar to its knees – over 2MM copies were downloaded and Chillingo had to switch distribution to Android Market to meet the demand.

How was Chillingo rewarded for building the single-largest installed base on Android for an indie publisher? Today games giant Electronic arts snapped up Chillingo for $20MM in cash

Find Angry Birds on AppStoreHQ.
  Android apps at AppStoreHQ