With the African mobile market for content changing, what were once rather inelegantly called Value Added Service (VAS) providers are now morphing slowly into digital content agencies. This transition reflects broader changes in the mobile content market. Russell Southwood spoke to Mahindra Comviva's Senior Vice President Atul Madan who heads Digital Services about how these changes are affecting their business.
Launched in 1999, Mahindra Comviva has three main areas of operation: content, commerce (things like pre-paid top-up and mobile wallets) and data. It works with 135 operators across 90 countries but has an especially strong footprint in Africa. It has also started working with broadcast media channels as well as music labels, artists and content aggregators.
"We work across different types of content and can supply music services or just content. We have a large catalogue of Hollywood and Bollywood and work with content aggregators and games producers to source games." It has 300 content partners globally of which 160-170 are in 25 countries in Africa. It has a kids offer with bedtime stories, jingles and learn with fun series for languages and cookery.
All this content goes out to 35 different operators. Mahindra Comviva can either manage an operators complete VAS portfolio, creating annual plans and targets or simply deliver them digital services, either from their own portfolio or from third party providers:"It's either service +content or content only. We productise and curate content."
According to Madan, with so much content, they thought why not create a production and distribution platform? So out of this thought its Moodit Digital Store was born. It was created to help three different stakeholders: content producers, distribution channels like broadcast, mobile and online; and app providers:"The latter may not have financial or geographic reach and we source content for them."
Madan makes a point that will shock those unfamiliar with the vagaries of mobile and online as content channels:"Content has a shelf life of 90 days. The challenge is how to reach customers quickly in the shortest possible time. You need to be able to stream content immediately. We use our commercial relationships with operators and can do different pricing in different parts of the world and can recommend prices for different geographies. So we can offer producers and media channels services around digital management and we can promote their content and services."
The challenge is is the revenue share with operators. This will vary enormously depending on whether it's just content being offered or if Mahindra Comviva is managing the revenue stream and providing the tech platform. But the bottom line is that operators take 50-80% of the revenues with the balance to be shared between Mahindra Comviva and the content owner, with the latter getting the lion's share.
So what content is successful? Music as ringback tones; rich media is growing fast; and football content like results. Currently the company gets 75% of its revenues from voice and SMS-based services and 25% from data-based services:"In 3-5 years time, that will be 60% data-based services and 40% from voice and SMS-based services.
So what's planned over the next 12 months? It will increase its number of operators; there will be a launch of kids-related services; there will be short-form versions of movies; and games will become a significant contributor.
It understands the differences between the different parts of the continent and would like to create different content for the sub-regions:"Some countries (in Africa) are still exploring what can be done outside of voice and data. Some have come through that curve and are expanding."