MEF member Basebone is now 10 years old. The company has built a business on providing mobile entertainment and value-added services through paid subscription portals across 10 countries in four continents. Its focus is on high growth, mobile first regions.
The model works. In South Africa alone the company has over 30 million paid subscriptions achieved since market entry.
Yet delivering content isn’t straightforward. Ericsson’s 2016 Global Mobility Report suggests that there is an 85 per cent mobile subscription rate in Sub-Saharan Africa (expected to reach 105 per cent by 2022, with over 1 billion mobile subscriptions). Typically there is complexity at the network level where there is a mix of devices and low to high bandwidth connectivity options.
Add to that the control that mobile operators have over the types of content that are available and the differences in how billing for that content operates at the consumer level and you have a challenge.
Here James McNab, Managing Director for Basebone Africa and MEF EMEA Board Director explains how the company has successfully unpacked this complexity and continues to grow for MEF’s recently published, free Africa eBullein.
In African countries, mobile content has been traditionally sold as a one-off product, content like ringtones and wallpapers, or a subscription service to one type of content such as a daily horoscope were the standard approach.
Due to the fact that emerging markets have low rates of connectivity, high mobile penetration and diverse handset types (WAP enabled, feature and smartphone) selling content the traditional way is a somewhat limited route to market.
This makes the content ecosystem fragmented, comprising of many different channels and consumer options. Content providers need to operate under the assumption that the handset market is diverse, what works on one device won’t work on others, also what is relevant in some markets isn’t relevant in others. And charging for that content is by no means a universal process. It’s the opposite of one size fits all.
For Basebone that means offering multiple types of content across differing genres on an all you can eat subscription basis. And by offering that content to users of the most basic to the most advanced handset through dedicated portals, we are able to address handset compatibility issues.
The content available within our entertainment portals varies depending on the market. We have a diverse range of custom branded products and services based on “glocal” content and customer focus, which allows market flexibility. Content genres and types can be added and removed based on market needs and requirements. We do this on a continuous basis.
Content providers need to operate under the assumption that the handset market is diverse, what works on one device won’t work on others, also what is relevant in some markets isn’t relevant in others. And charging for that content is by no means a universal process. It’s the opposite of one size fits all.
At the top of the funnel we also continually add content types to our portfolio – mainstream content such as music, games and wallpaper downloads, but in addition to this we also include infotainment services (news feeds, celebrity gossip and horoscopes, etc.), edutainment services, where we have a suite of e-learning courses, apps, competitions and so on.
Crucially, Basebone offers a wide variety of localised content, that is specific to particular markets. Whilst many providers concentrate solely on offering mainstream content we offer mainstream and local.
For example, mobile education instruction videos on how to tie a headscarf are hugely popular. But how you tie a headscarf varies from Nigeria to South Africa. Observing simple cultural differences by offering locally relevant content is a hugely effective way of developing content that gets cut through in an otherwise saturated market.
More than this, our entertainment portals have a deep integration with all existing social communities. This gives an open experience and a deeper loyalty to our products and services whether they are apps, games, media, or m-learning content based. And by offering social interaction in this way we are able to appeal to broader subsets of consumers. The result is improved loyalty to the content, driven by the consumer.
Ways to pay
In emerging markets, where significant numbers of consumers are unbanked, a homogenous app store approach (where a bank account is connected to the transaction) is some way off.
In emerging markets, where there significant numbers of consumers are unbanked, a homogenous app store approach (where a bank account is connected to the transaction) is some way off. Rather, charging for content through a user’s mobile account, either directly by adding cost to their monthly bill or by deducting pre-paid airtime from a user’s account is widely accepted.
The process used to collect monies also varies by territory and network operator. For example, in Kenya the billing is via a form of PSMS, whereas in South Africa, payments are made via a form of direct carrier billing. From market to market everything is different both in terms of what sorts of content a consumer wants and in how that content can be paid for.
There is also complexity in every market at the network operator level. And since most mobile first markets have a high degree of operator control, differing regulation and so on, you need to go through approval processes to get content out to market.
Perhaps understandably, operators limit the content that they want to make available based on their own content portfolios. Unlike a supermarket, where you might have the choice of three baked bean brands, there is a very real sense in which consumer choice is locked down. This will change over time.
Taken together, content delivery, content types and how that content is retailed is complicated. Reaching consumers means paying attention to all of the details so that they are able to access relevant content according to handset type and pay for it in a way that suits them.
Looking ahead smartphone penetration will only increase across the African continent. One report by Analysys Mason suggests that demand for mobile content services is driving smartphone take-up and will push the smartphone share of handsets up to nearly 40 per cent by 2021. So it’s important to be able to offer content across different formats and platforms – as well as understanding the key areas of the mobile ecosystem – something that Basebone is prepared for through its different lines of business such as entertainment, aggregation, apps and publishing.
MEF’s quarterly Africa eBulletin contains the insights, market stats, news and opinion that frame the ever-evolving pan-African mobile ecosystem.
In this edition, MEF member and Managing Director for Basebone in Africa, James McNab, discusses how the right mix of content and transactional platforms are unlocking revenues in the region. The eBulletin also includes analysis from Deloitte’s Africa Telecom Leader Arun Babu from his company’s recent consumer study ‘Game of Phones’ which surveyed consumer mobile behaviour and an exclusive interview with the CEO of Tencent Africa, Greg Loubser, on how WeChat is becoming a proxy for the internet itself in the region.