Mobile operators have the potential to become the biggest publishers in SA & Africa. Part 2 17 August , 2016

To recap from last week, in emerging markets, there is a huge pent-up and untapped demand for content, for information, for services that people want to access via their phones, particularly in emerging markets. In Africa less than 40% of mobile phone users are on smartphones; so technology that works on feature phones is still an extremely viable route to market on the continent.

For example, text or short-messaging-service (SMS) is still a hugely relevant channel for content distribution in emerging markets. At MobiMedia, we operate highly effective SMS news channels with steadily growing user bases, particularly for our real-time alerts and updates such as general and entertainment news. Through our channel, we have launched a range of SMS alerts to which people are eagerly subscribing. For example, we have an audience of over 100 thousand people in SA who are subscribed to receive SMS news alerts about their political party of choice – be this the ANC, the DA, the EFF and so on.

Where mobile has the edge is that it is classic ‘push’ technology. You could say it’s almost like Twitter for the feature phone age. So we can distribute real-time content about the latest news, gossip or sport, which is very attractive to the audience. However, it can also be a source of useful information like education, financial and health tips, for example.

It’s a question of familiarity: people are accustomed to and comfortable with using SMS and USSD services. In the case of USSD, this legacy technology is virtually unheard of outside of emerging markets, but it’s a technology that the consumers feel comfortable with – and there are no cost issues. Whilst content can be served in highly attractive formats on smartphones and mobile applications, this is often associated with high data costs. Consumers feel these applications “steal” their money. On the other hand, they know the cost of USSD and SMS is relatively low and is also quite transparent. For this reason, they feel happier consuming content via known channels – even many of those who are using smartphones.

Whilst there is clearly still a large demand for content delivered via SMS in emerging markets, strangely enough in markets where one would think SMS is dying – like the UK. Here we also supply content to mobile network operators and publishers, and subscribers for SMS content are on the rise. For example, an SMS notification service where people are willing to pay a premium for an up-to-the-minute goal alert, or a news update.

With SMS, we are proactively pushing content to people (rather than requiring them to look for it) – and this has value. Even though on smartphones one can receive app notifications, this still requires the app to be running in the background, thus incurring data charges.  So, again SMS is a quick, easy and familiar channel. The networks have a huge capacity to deliver SMS, which is predominantly a text channel but can also include embedded hyperlinks to feature-phone-friendly mobisites, where you could read the full story, for example.

With technology moving at breakneck speed, at MobiMedia our team includes mobile developers who are masters in the field of responsive sites and applications, but we still are cognisant of the realities of doing business in Africa. We understand mobile content consumption patterns and help brands to select the channels that are most effective to meet their objectives.

By T********im Legg Co-Founder and CEO Ole! Media Group

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