Unpacking Zimpapers’ mobile news platform

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May 17, 2017

Unpacking Zimpapers’ mobile news platform

Dr Dennis Magaya
AS the world continue moving towards new generation plaforms in terms of mobile news, Zimbabwe cannot afford to be left out.

Cognisant of this, Zimpapers entered into an agreement with Rubiem Zimbabwe for the supply and operations of a mobile news technology platform in February 2017. The innovative technology platform enables Zimpapers newspapers and radio content to be accessed by mobile network subscribers.

Zimpapers provides news onto the Rubiem platform which connects to the mobile networks. For instance, a subscriber can dial #34445# or send an SMS with text “news” to 34445 to register for the service. The subscriber choses from the packages priced at 13 cents for 1 day, 38 cents for 3 days, 88 cents for week and US$3 for a month’s supply of news. The subscriber mobile account is then debited and the news is delivered daily. The subscriber can stop the subscription any time. This a new generation platform with world-class benefits, customer experience and choices for customers.

The agreement is structured to cover all Zimpapers publications which can be packaged to offer affordable choices to different market segments. For instance, there can be subscription for Herald, Chronicle, Sunday Mail, Kwayedaza and HMetro. The initial launch was with The Herald with the other papers set to come on stream in later stages.

The timing for Zimpapers mobile news is just spot on. The POTRAZ 2016 reports indicate that 95 percent of the population have a mobile service. Therefore, all people with internet capable phones can access online news from Zimpapers, other publications and social media. In fact, the noisy and sometimes false social media news tends to crowd-out the mainstream media. From that perspective, it is imperative that Zimpapers leverages the internet to provide news customised for Mobile devices.

However, only 50 percent of the Zimbabwean population are connected to the internet. Worse still, less than 33 percent of mobile handsets are capable of browsing the internet. As a result, online news and social media are currently “elitist” and exclude the majority most of whom are the poor and rural. Although Zimpapers has a national distribution network, it is not economically and logistically feasible to distribute newspapers to some of the rural areas. The same rural people might not access radio and TV news because about 61 percent of the Zimbabwean population has no access or has unreliable grid electricity. Most of these people tend to use old radios on solar systems with discarded card batteries. The mobile news service is designed to solve the limitations described above by ensuring that every citizen with a phone receives news using SMS. This is true information inclusivity.

The regional and global trends show a rapid uptake in news using digital channels such as internet and SMS. For instance, the South African and Namibian print media uses mobile news extensively to stimulate newspaper sales and to cover a wider base. They generate incremental revenue by cross-selling advertising services between the print and digital platforms. It is easier for Zimpapers to sell bulk SMS services to their corporate clients who advertise. The revenue driver for radio and print media is advertising. The google advertising revenue is about 50 percent of all global TV advertising and is bigger than all individual radio, TV and print advertising. Imagine what will happen to Zimpapers in the future when advertising shifts to mobile and digital platforms. Mobile news should therefore evolve to attract advertising revenue for Zimpapers.

There is an opportunity for Zimpapers to increase mobile news services. Globally traditional telecommunications and media industries are converging. In South Africa, it is reported in the Business Digest publication of South Africa that MTN wants to buy Multichoice the owners of DSTV and BoxOffice. Quite clearly the MTN interest is the Multichoice content. In the USA AT&T acquired Time Warner the home of CNN and HBO for US$85.4 billion in 2016. The Mobile news product is in context of the above global trends.

The amount of news and general content consumed through the mobile phone instead of radio and print media is increasing rapidly. POTRAZ reported that the 2016 total telecommunications revenue was US$983 million from 12.8 million and 305 720 active mobile and fixed lines subscribers respectively.

Mobile communications growth is driven by broadband which in turn is driven by content. Zimpapers is one of the largest content producers in Zimbabwe and is therefore a telecommunications growth driver. Zimpapers can leverage the huge business platform provided by telecommunications. If Zimpapers was to provide content and get only five percent of the US$983 million telecommunications revenue their revenue could double.

The global trend shows that digital platforms are elbowing incumbent print, TV and radio media from their comfort zone. Recent political events in Ethiopia, Congo, Uganda, Chad show that state and private owned media were rendered ineffective by digital platforms such as Whatsapp which are quicker, pervasive and cheaper to reach masses of people within a minute.

In some cases the response by authorities is to shut down social media for reasons that include the lack of regulation and laws for cyber threats, abuse and security. Perhaps the real elephant in the room is that the traditional media were caught flat-footed since they don’t have digital news platforms that are a better alternative to social media. It is ironic that the Internet itself was invented by a USA government department, Defence Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) which used ARPANET as a testbed in January 1, 1983. The online world then took off in 1990, when World Wide Web (WWW) was invented. From this perspective, the Zimpapers mobile news service is on point.

The Americans and Europeans managed to build a heritage founded on historical information being shared and monetised. Zimpapers has a huge amount of such national historical content which the mobile news service can distribute to the rest of the world.

There is a global wave of business model disruptions driven by digital platforms. The Telecash, OneWallet and Ecocash mobile services are now bigger than banks. The world best taxi company, UBER, doesn’t own a single car. Facebook is the world’s best content company, but doesn’t own any content. While firms like Zimpapers invest money to produce content, the Facebook content is produced for free daily by the users. It should be noted that there will always be space for the newspaper and for radio.

However, the business models are changing. If media companies don’t change current business models or self-disrupt, they will be replaced just like what digital photography did to Kodak. The StarFM business model assumed is based on the content being consumed using the radio. Yet the world has moved and the biggest radio manufacturer is now Samsung. Imagine how Samsung and mobile communications can potentially disrupt the StarFM business in future.

The Zimbabwean economy can be characterised by two phenomenon namely informalisation and youthfication. The informal markets are replacing the corporates and a “US$1.00” economy is emerging. The traditional huge advertising budgets that sustain media companies are dwindling. Business is now driven by volumes of small sales values. In addition, at the US$1.00 price, Zimpapers newspapers unfortunately competes with many basic food and survival necessities. Mobile news allows Zimpapers to offer affordable news services on subscription to a huge number of people. About 67 percent of the population is youthful and below the age of 35 years. The default content and news device for the youth is a mobile phone which is in line with Zimpapers mobile news service.

The biggest challenges to mobile news is slow speed to technology adoption due to human social behaviours. People take time to adopt new technologies. The service providers have to put a reasonable marketing budget to educate the market and stimulate service uptake. It takes up to 12 months to achieve critical mass on customers.

The Tilda Moyo Show and StarFM news mobile services enable a person to dial a number and listen to the programs anytime and anywhere with any telephone device. To put the StarFM services in perspective, radio and tv programming entails designing schedules to broadcast programs at given times targeting certain listeners and viewers. As such if you miss the timeslot where the program plays then you lose out.

The Personal Video Recorder (PVR) from DSTV which allows customers to record and view programs at their time of choice exposed the traditional programming limitations. However even if, 67 percent of TV users are on DSTV in Zimbabwe the PVR decoder is costly at US$180.00 a unit.   The idea behind the Mobile Tilda Moyo show and StarFM News is to use the Mobile phone which costs US$20 and accessible to more than 12 million people in Zimbabwe as a “PVR”. The subscribers can simply dial in anytime, anywhere with any mobile device to access their favourite radio show. The service is offered via Interactive Voice Recording (IVR) which relies on the voice telephone instead of Internet which has limited coverage.

Zimbabwe has the highest literacy rate in Africa and the people are hungry for information, entertainment and news. This is why, more that 38 percent of broadband traffic is from whatsapp. If the right content is provided on the mobile news platform, the uptake will be great. The use of SMS and IVR as alternative channels makes the content more accessible to users.

As the pressure for governments to enable information inclusivity in the knowledge based economy, as the internet rapidly grows spurred by telecommunications and as the mobile handset becomes the default device for content consumption, the future of mobile news is great.

Dr Magaya is the founder of Rubiem, which is a Pan-African consultancy and innovation solutions company with branches in nine African countries.

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