ABCDJ – what now

Indian-Mobile-Value-Added-ServicesIn India, the Telecom Value-Added-Services (VAS) was referred to as the business of ABCDJ – Astro, Bollywood, Cricket, Devotion and Jokes. This was the volume and revenue driver for almost all mobile operators beyond the voice and text revenues and it sure was a significant one (if we include the ringtones and call-back tunes within Bollywood or Devotion category).

With the TRAI’s new SMS guidelines, the VAS players cannot send SMS based content to users who are on NDNC. There are talks of partial NDNCs but the fact remains that this business has been hit in a big way. The VAS players had been using SMS both as a channel for marketing and for delivering content too. The ones who have been hit the worst are the ones where the content is the text.

So what now? I think one of these may happen

  1. Telcos/VAS players will build a case & convince TRAI. Given the fact that Telco’s almost enjoyed a significant portion of the VAS revenues, this is surely already happening. The VAS players would need to show that the content is being delivered only to subscribed customers and the customers have an easy way to opt out it. (Airtel had started a on/off service for all products, now all might have to adopt it). There would surely be a lot of genuine customers who need a regular dose of ABCDJ delivered on their handset.What the VAS players might not get, is the use of SMS as an advertising channel to sell their services. If this happens, the cost of customer acquisition will go up, and hence the profitability metrics would be negatively impacted.
  2. Non-SMS channels for delivery. SMS was the ideal channel for content delivery as it allowed the VAS player to just focus on acquisition and content. Delivery was a no-brainer. There was no classification needed basis handset type etc to see if the content was delivered or not. With SMS gone, the players would want to explore GPRS based rich media delivery of content. Here the customer’s handset type will decide whether the specific user should be targeted with this content or not. Maybe now Telco’s will start focusing on selling smart phones either bundled or as part of a special deal. Any smart phone sold by Vodafone, gives them a customer to whom rich-media VAS can be sold. Maybe now the likes of CellTick will have a second lease of life in the Indian market.
  3. More active role by Telco in selling VAS. Till now, the role played by Telco in selling VAS content was restricted to sharing data with the players, and opening up a pipe for them to deliver. Now the Telco will remain the most important touch-point, and if they want the VAS revenues to grow, they would need to “sell” it now. Telcos might invest in a VAS emarketplace of sorts so that pulling the content is much easier.

Time will tell, what finally happens, but my guess is, that it surely is a critical discussion point at most Telco board rooms.