South Africa: Mobile a Serious Challenge for Internet Publishers
It was bad enough for web publishing when the challenge was to persuade marketers to move money from 'old fashioned' magazines and radio to the 'new and trendy' Internet. Now there's something newer and trendier!
The success of MXit has been phenomenal. The instant messaging service available via cellphones has more than three million subscribers in South Africa. This Stellenbosch-born business already has half a million international subscribers and is poised for rapid growth in the India and the UK.
MXit isn't going to have it all its own way in South Africa. Vodacom has launched The Grid - or so they tell me. I'm not in my teens so I'm not the target market. The launch has been low key, utilising the viral element that worked so well for MXit. Each subscriber to the service will invite an average of 20 friends. Each of them will invite another 20. The network effect doing its magic.
I first heard about MXit during a lunch conversation with a group of friends. My children are too young to have cellphones, but some of the other parents present were used to spending thousands per month on their children's cellphone bills. They were big MXit fans because it brought down the monthly cost drastically.
And MXit is more than just instant text messaging. When subscribers logon they view an advertising screen, which they apparently enjoy. MXit boss Paul Stemmet told the Reshaping Media conference that if subscribers don't get their advert when they logon, they call the helpdesk to ask where it is. If that's more than just an occasional occurrence it's quite extraordinary.
Mobile content providers are now producing audio and video content for viewing on cellphones - funded by advertising and sponsorship. The age of users is also important. The vast majority are in their teens of early 20s. As they grow up they are likely to stick to the habits of their youth.
Vodacom has joined the Online Publishers Association and is aggressively rolling out an advertising model to bolster revenues. Figures presented by Vodacom's Graunt Kruger show that its websites reach 1.4 million South African subscribers each month - a greater domestic audience than previous local leader news24.com.
Where does this leave web publishing? Looking a bit dated and unable to match the reach of some of the mobile services. It was bad enough when the challenge was to persuade marketers to move money from 'old fashioned' magazines and radio to the 'new and trendy' Internet. Now there's something newer and trendier!
The challenge for website publishers is to harness mobile to support their current offerings. The next step has to be to position website publishing to demonstrate its strengths. But how best to do this?