Radio and TV stations using SMS messaging to raise money and generate interactivity

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One vital source of income for TV and radio stations is the SMS messages sent in as votes or in response to competitions or questions about programmes. Although the income share of SMS votes on reality TV show programmes are big money earners – sometimes nearly enough to finance the programme – very few media owners have a clear strategy for raising money in this way. Russell Southwood spoke to Charles Etekamba Ekanem, Director of ESJ Interactive, who is hoping to change things in this industry.

Q: What does your SMS Messaging Platform do?

A: The MediaResponse platform suite, which is made up of MediaResponse Lite and MediaResponse Pro solutions, enables TV and radio stations to create and manage SMS Events – including competitions, polls, surveys, voting, games and Text-A-Request. It can help set the questions, collate the responses and answers, generate updates, as well as store the SMS Event information and phone numbers. You can set it so that every text gets a response to meet UK ICSTIS rules (ICSTIS is the UK phone-paid industry regulator). The solution is provided with keywords, a dedicated virtual mobile number and SMS short codes.

Q: Can you explain short codes for those who might not be familiar with them?

A: An SMS short code is a simple 5 digit number that you can dial to send an SMS. It easier to dial than a full number and it’s memorable. It’s a premium number so you pay a little more. In the UK, the average SMS message is 10p - whereas an SMS message to a premium number can cost from 25p to £5.00.

Q: So how does it work for media owners – Radio & TV Stations, magazines, and other interested SMS messaging clients?

A: We can take any contract African SIM with a memorable number from any interested SMS messaging client and it will be loaded on our system. The average mobile phone can take 6-10 messages a minute. Our system handles 100,000s of messages per day using our High-capacity, enterprise platform, giving us the enhanced capability to deliver faster service, greater resilience and higher quality to our clients. You don’t just want callers to be ringing the DJ on his phone.

Q: How’s the revenue split?

A: The revenue is shared three ways between the mobile operator, the SMS Messaging provider (us!) and the radio or TV station. In the UK, it is 40% to the operator with the remaining 60% split between the short code operator and the radio or TV station. In Africa, the revenue split is more likely to be 60% in favour of the mobile operator. The other route for revenue is getting an advertiser to pay for (sponsor) a game or competition. This may involve offering goods or items of value like restaurant meals, tickets, discounts, white goods, electrical equipment and other things like that as prizes for taking part in an SMS event run by the messaging client. Finally, you can put up the prize yourself and take the competition revenue share but also get advertisers to pay for return messages to competition entrants in which they promote their products. For example, a mobile operator like Zain might promote something to its own subscribers or to other companies’ subscribers. Through this process, you have acquired a database of marketing numbers and although this obviously needs to be used in the regulatory environment of a country, it also represents an asset you can use.

Q: What’s in it for media owners?

A: There are three things media owners will want to do: 1. Make money out of interacting with their audiences. 2. Enhance the relationship between the station and its advertisers. This platform gives advertisers better management of responses and the monitoring of them. From there, there’s a direct correlation as to how they spend their money and their marketing budgets. 3. Give the listener a better relationship with the TV or radio station. They feel their views are being listened to and as a result, they feel excited, involved – and entertained. In terms of the latter, in Nigeria there was a lot of discussion about governance because of the situation with the health of the President. A lot of this discussion took place around Facebook and other on-line and social networking platforms. But with the SMS MediaResponse Messaging Platform, it’s the sort of discussion that you could do with talk radio give opportunities for the listeners to vote on key issues. It gives the opportunity for listeners and viewers to interact.

Q: Do you have existing clients?

A: In the UK we have TV clients like Ben TV and OHTV (both UK-based stations run by Nigerians). We also ran an SMS competition with Hi-TV to promote a major entertainment event – they utilised our SMS Event management capability, keywords and Short codes. We’re particularly interested in getting our platform offering used by radio stations in Africa. The Mobile phone is the most pervasive one-to-one communication tool in Africa and Radio is the most pervasive one-to-many communication tool in Africa. When you combine the two, it’s a winning combination. But we’ve also taken on board the importance of African TV stations where viewers want to respond to things they see on the small screen.

Q: How do radio and TV stations pay for your SMS platform?

A: We have different pricing structures. You can pay a licence fee for the software, a quarterly fee. Or we can provide the software licence for free and take a percentage of the SMS traffic income. In the UK, many of the media owners have their own short codes so they pay for a licence. We have key words and short for certain countries in Africa. Currently we have short codes for Nigeria and we’re negotiating in Ghana and a few other countries. In the first phase of our roll-out activities, we are focusing on the Anglophone countries on the continent. For more information: http://www.esjinteractive.com