On September 1, miNews, the news-by-mobile service of Mid-Day Multimedia on BPL Mobile phones, became pay. It is just the first step towards the new sources of revenue the company is looking at. One very lucrative source of revenue could be advertising, and according to industry sources, Mid-Day is already in talks with major companies for advertising on miNews.
Mid-Day Multimedia has the first mover advantage in the market. Such city-specific information delivered through networking devices could mark the beginning of a new trend, as mobile subscribers are usually the young, upwardly mobile executives. Senior sources say that the service could be extended to other cities too - either by BPL entering into other similar alliances, or by other players moving into the market looking to co-opt on similar services.
It is a market with a future. "Given the exponential growth of mobile phones, there will always be a market for advertising that is instantaneous and personal. If a fine balance can be kept between intrusion and information, and the targeting is very precise, you have a fine audience," evaluates Vinod Nair, chief executive officer, Network Advertising, Mumbai. "What you are looking at is a target audience of upwardly mobile people who have the ability and are willing to pay for such services, and will be susceptible to targeted advertising," adds a Mumbai-based media analyst.
Right now, it seems that the service has taken off. Though BPL is unwilling to give out specific figures, sources say that at least 50 per cent of BPL's mobile phone subscriber base is SMS (short messaging service)-enabled and at least 15,000 subscribers are using the miNews service. Mobile phone advertising scores over Internet advertising: the targeting is much more precise; the target is not "just a click away" from a better site or ad; and, by their very nature, mobile phones are in the hands of an affluent class that is willing to spend.
miNews is quite in tune with the marketing strategy of Mumbai-based Mid-Day, which has focused intensely on its market delivery mechanism. Rather than spread its reach, it has concentrated on the city and has tried to spread its delivery mechanism to capture as wide a clientele as possible, a strategy quite in tune with its advertising slogan, "We Deliver Mumbai". The company has a presence in most media - radio, newspapers, the Internet, and outdoor. And it hopes to be in television some day. "What we try to deliver is city-specific information, the whole gamut of news, all the time," says Neville Taraporewalla, chief operating officer, Interactive Division, Mid-Day Multimedia, Mumbai.
The idea of tying up with BPL mobile to deliver real time news content on the SMS platform was born out of this. Being city-specific it bypassed the complications of WAP-enabled phones. The service worked as it delivered the latest headlines from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm, Monday to Saturday, every two hours. In an astute move, miNews also has very micro-level information. Thus, when heavy rains led to huge traffic blocks in Mumbai recently, BPL subscribers got the news flashed on their mobiles, enabling them to take detours.
Such practical news also means that subscribers would be predisposed to pay for a service that delivers immediate benefits. "We do have major news flashes. For example, miNews was first with the Phoolan murder. But, by and large, what we are looking at is very city-specific information," says Taraporewalla.
Such city specific news could also, if infrastructure difficulties can be overcome, be used to target Mumbai-sick NRIs who have roaming facilities. That could be well in the future. Right now, such mobile phone-enabled content delivery mechanisms have an appeal in cities like Mumbai, where a large number of affluent mobile phone users see the mobile phone as a personal accessory and spend a lot of time away from other media, mainly because of heavy commuting.
Another plus is that unlike the Internet, where consumers expect everything for free, mobile phones and other mobile devices are perceived as pay services. Thus, it would be easier for content providers to charge for their services, something that is difficult to do on the net, where paying for services is seen as a violation of the basic ethos of the Internet.
For cellular phone service operators like BPL, it is a value-added service in an extremely competitive market. The city-specific focus of Mid-Day was the clinching factor, admit most analysts. "Basically, Mid-Day is a Mumbai phenomenon, and the response to the miNews service has been excellent due mainly to its clear targeting," says BP Singh, chief operating officer, BPL Mobile. If this alliance does not end in a divorce, many more content-provider-network enabler marriages could be solmenised.
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