23 November 2010

An "Apptastic" London Event

MIG CEO Barry Houlihan welcomed everyone to a private screening room in the Charlotte Street hotel for “Apptastic” the first joint MEF/MIG London event held on 17 November. “It IS possible to have a great user experience on the small screen,” enthused Houlihan, before going on to underline the importance of having a mobile app strategy based on “Discovery and which platforms to use; features and which devices to target; and delivering a great user experience.”

Suhail Bhat, MEF Policy & Initiative Director, set the scene by speaking briefly about applications from the perspective of MEF’s current work on Smart Enablers and M-Commerce. “Apps must be simple, relevant and contextual,” stated Suhail, adding that there are also important issues surrounding in-app billing, a subject which was the focus of a recent Ofcom ruling.

“Monetisation & In App Billing”

“Monetisation is key, otherwise as a start-up you face death!” was the dramatic opening statement from Flirtomatic’s CEO Mark Curtis. With at least 5 platforms to deal with, Curtis emphasised the need to work with partners to deal with the complexity. He also advised the audience to “Watch out for HTML5” with regard to mobile web applications.

So-called ‘vanity tools’ such as ‘Delete your freak’ and ‘ego boost’ offer opportunities for Flirtomatic users to pay to boost their ratings and profiles. This is crucial given the social networking company’s focus on the KPI of conversion to payment.

His presentation also covered different billing routes including: iTunes, carrier integration, Paypal, as well as a “new breed of integrator” typified by companies like Boku and Zong, which both have Android “1 click billing”.

One audience member asked about the reasons for the high levels of failed payment transactions – which can lead to anything from 25-50% of failed transactions. “Often this is down to lack of credit on pre-pay phones but it can also be due to network drop-outs or numerous other reasons,” explained Curtis.

Another attendee asked how Flirtomatic compare themselves to their competitors such as Match. “We don’t view Match as competition,” replied Curtis, “since we have different business models – theirs is based on subscriptions. Besides we’re about flirting not dating,” he added, pointing out how many times people (and here he included himself) flirt during the course of their day.

“Using Apps to Drive Revenue & Extend Your Brand”

Neil Johnson from A&N Media (a division of Daily Mail & General Trust) began his presentation with a quick overview of Metro’s readership, dubbed “City Clickers”. “The average age of our readers is 35 years, they’re twice as likely to have an iPhone and over 50% own a smartphone,” said Johnson.

Metro Apps is the brand and website for the publishing group’s applications which focus on transport and games, although Phrasebook apps, aimed at the “fly and flop” traveller, have also proved popular. “An example of a travel app is ‘Cabfinder’ which uses LBS to show minicab firms in your area. The app is free and there’s a revenue share earned from each call,” explained Johnson.

Responding to an audience question, Johnson conceded that the business model for Metro Apps relies on their ability to cross promote using the publishing assets at A&N Media’s disposal.
He added that Metro is also experimenting with QR Codes which can be scanned by smartphones and provide a link to say a Youtube clip. This is being used for a game entitled Super Yum Yum 3 with the entertaining tagline: “Revenge doesn’t get fruitier than this!”

MIG’s David Glennie concluded with a presentation on market fragmentation, pointing out, “Fragmentation is always viewed in a negative way, even though it’s caused by innovation (which generally has positive connotations).” Glennie suggested that HTML5 could solve many fragmentation issues and is set to revolutionise the mobile web. It would also appear that the future is coming faster than we think. As an example of the speed of change affecting mobile, Glennie pointed to a prediction made earlier this year by Morgan Stanley’s Mary Meeker that smartphone sales would overtake sales of new pcs by 2014. This prediction has now been revised to actually happen by 2012…

Attendees then gathered in an adjacent room to network and enjoy some typical MIG hospitality. Further joint events on topical issues are planned for 2011.

16 November 2010

MEF Connects Cape Town 2010: “Local is lekker”

Last year’s MEF event boasted a view of the impressive new Green Point stadium which hosted the opening World Cup game in June. This year’s venue offered an alternative yet intrinsically Capetonian view – Clifton’s 4th beach – to welcome MEF members and guests to the Mira Networks-hosted MEF Connects event held in Cape Town on 10 November.

Emma Kaye, MEF EMEA board director, welcomed guests and thanked Mira Networks for sponsoring the second annual gathering in Cape Town. Gerrit Jan Konijnenberg, MEF EMEA Chairman, then confirmed the ‘tradition’ of local events would be maintained with the announcement of Vodacom’s offer to sponsor a South African event in 2011.

The topic for the panel of speakers was mobile content in Africa and ‘local is lekker’ quickly became a recurring theme in the discussion led by Konijnenberg. Google’s Nick Heller underlined the importance of relevant and local content, citing Google’s new “Baraza” service as an example – a Q&A service for Africa to encourage more people to go online and provide locally relevant information. Heller added that monetisation through mobile advertising is set to capitalise on the mobile phone functionality using interaction and location.

Vodacom’s Prins Mhlanga talked about the challenges of growing revenues at the “base of the pyramid” and taking subscription services to the next level while dealing with increasing regulatory burdens.

Sean Conde of Mira Networks highlighted the need to work with local partners when doing business in Africa: “It’s absolutely essential to use local partners but the challenge of course is how to find the right partners?” Conde stated. He also pointed out that not all African markets are regulated to the same level and encouraged companies to use MEF as a resource on regulatory matters and tap into their expertise from other regions.

DStv mobile has recently launched in South Africa offering 11 channels and video on demand on weekly or monthly subscriptions using 3G streaming as well as DVB-H trial. DStv’s Mark Rayner said: “Our speed to market has been quite frankly shocking in South Africa mainly due to regulatory challenges. However elsewhere in Africa, we’ve had a much more positive experience. The authorities in Nigeria and Kenya for example, view mobile tv as an innovative service that they want to encourage and spectrum availability has been much less of an issue.”

New mobile entrant 8ta, owned by the Telkom group, launched as a mobile network last month and has an ambitious goal of reaching 12% market share by 2015. Dawood Patel admitted: “Currently we’re focusing on text and encouraging more communication, content will become a priority later.”

Nokia’s Woon Peng highlighted how the OEM’s work is making life easier for farming communities in India, Asia and now Africa. “Ovi Life Tools has been launched in Nigeria allowing farmers to check the latest crop prices, weather forecasts and livestock information via their handsets,” stated Peng. Other ways to encourage content consumption include embedded content on new devices offering free games on a trial basis, as well as the Ovi store which profiles Nokia users to ensure they receive relevant content and information. This is in addition to Nokia’s ongoing training of coders and media providers.

An audience member asked about Nokia’s strategy for micro-payments. Peng replied: “We’ve trialled mobile payments in Senegal by partnering with the bank Societe Generale. However I think the most important goal is to work towards simple ‘1 click purchases’ and to team up with network operators to achieve this.”

Another question pointed out that content is bandwidth intensive and, given the increasing downward pressure on pricing, asked what was the answer. Google’s Heller replied that caching local content and using ever more innovative compression technology were part of the solution.

The lively panel discussion concluded and was followed by cocktails, canapes and the serious pursuit of networking late into the evening and long after the sun had set on 4th beach.