Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Shozu -One to Watch #10

London-based Shozu has reason to be pleased with itself. Last year, it scooped a GSMA award for 'Most Innovative Mobile Application' and has since been somewhat of a benchmark when it comes to sharing and uploading content from mobile to web as well as share content purely with other mobile users.

Shozu also recently raised $12m in new venture financing (Series C funding) and is supporting the growth in partners and integrations with other social networking or multimedia sharing sites. The list of partner sites is long, from Picasa to Flickr, from YouTube to Seesmic and from Facebook to Blogger.

They also recently announced that they had struck up a deal with 3 for its one-click mobile-to-Web image uploading service for mobile phones to be amongst a handful of applications featured on 3neXt, a new mobile applications community website from mobile operator 3. The site is designed to aid consumers in finding innovative mobile lifestyle applications that fit 3's focus on mobilising the Internet, as reflected in 3's X-Series phones introduced last year.

ShoZu currently supports 250 Symbian, Java, Microsoft Windows Mobile-based and BREW devices available from multiple manufacturers. The ShoZu service can also be used with select WiFi-enabled mobile phones such as the Nokia N80 in Europe and Dash in the U.S., permitting multimedia files to be routed over users' home, office or WiFi connection (or AirPort connection for Mac users) rather than the cellular network to reduce data transport costs.

I'm looking forward to listening to and exchanging views on Shozu's future plans with its CEO, Mark Bole, who will be presenting next week at the Mobile Internet Conference in Berlin. I will, of course, keep readers posted on salient points of the presentation.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

AOL acquires Bebo & How to value an Online Social Network

I am deep in the throes of analysing the online social network 'market' for a presentation I am preparing and stumbled across the recent news of Bebo's acquisition AOL for no less than $850m and thought wow!That is a lot of cash!

Bebo was set up in 2006 and now has (only) 100 employees. It achieved significant success early on, when it offered a free trial for 7 weeks in 2006 and obtained 40,000 user sign-ups.It later changed its business model, dropping member fees for a more 'traditional' advertising supported medium.

Having to hand the numbers for the last big acquisition in the sector, that of MySpace by NewsCorp in 2005 for $580m I could do a quick calculation. Given that back then, MySpace had 25 million members, NewsCorp paid $23 for each user.

Fast forward to 2008, and the value of online social networks is clearly on the rise. Bebo has an estimated 22 million visitors (I will assume this means members), so AOL paid a neat $38 for each one, a whopping 65% more than the amount paid for the MySpace members.

As far as I can work out from public information, rival Facebook has about 60 million subscribers (4m of these users of the mobile Facebook site) and in 2007 generated $100m in advertising revenue i.e just under $2 per member per year. At these levels, AOL will require around 20 years to breakeven on its acquisition in terms of ad revenue alone (ok, a simplistic calculation, but a revealing one nonetheless).

One could argue that AOL probably has plans to integrate Bebo with its other business(es) and cross-sell media etc. but based on the social network alone, either AOL knows something we don't in terms of how much advertising can be pumped through the pipes of a social network or they have some cunning plan to create new value from it by some (yet unknown) proposition.

Needless to say, eyes will be peeled for any developments just as much as they will be on the last remaining independent players in the online social network space, like Friendster and Tagged (with claims to 60m and 30m subscribers each).... a whiff of consolidation in the sector is definitely in the air..question is, how much will the next brave acquisition cost and will the premium keep on rising despite a probable plateauing of subscriber numbers across the board...?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Golden Gekko -One To Watch #9

Founded in London in 2005, Golden Gekko has been pushing the boundaries of mobile marketing since its inception, with the innovative use of widely accessible mobile applications to support multi-channel branding and advertising campaigns for world-recognised brands like Absolut Vodka, Coca Cola and Nicotinell.

It also successfully raised an undisclosed amount of venture capital from ACP Partners in 2007 which is underpinning its expansion in new markets and a widening of its already ample product portfolio.

The mobile marketing community is appreciative of Golden Gekko's innovation and at the Mobile Marketing Awards 2008 celebrated in London earlier this month, the company stole a march on its competitors by winning a 'double whammy' of both "Best use of content in mobile marketing" and "Best use of mobile in brand building" for their Lynx ‘Get in There’ campaign in association with BBH.

This follows hot on the heels of the BIMA Award obtained in 2007 for "Best Use in Mobile" for the
Air Action Vigorsol (chewing gum) campaign also with BBH.

Golden Gekko is developing a new type of application that it plans to roll out 'shortly' that it claims will set a new standard for mobile marketing...could it be what they require to win the coveted 'Best Use of Mobile in Driving Revenue' award next time round?

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mobile Payments -NFC Trials steaming ahead

I posted an item at the start of the year explaining the rise of the 'mobile wallet' and stumbled across a related piece this week where the Financial Times explain NFC technology and its rollout.

According to research they quote from ABI Research, 30% of the mobile phones in the world will be NFC-enabled by 2011 (down from a rosier prediction made originaly in 2004 of 50% by 2009).

The point about the lack of hardware infrastructure to support faster NFC rollout made by the FT is a valid one -once again, too many standards existing across the globe with inherent vested interest in retaining one above the others.

Equally valid, is the discussion of how mobile operators are simply unprepared to relinquish the lion's share of the transaction fees from mobile payment transactions to financial institutions -something which has the potential to significantly delay any mass-market launch anwhere in the world.

Nontheless, o2 has been undertaking a 6-month project with Transport for London, Barclaycard and other partners to trial cashless payments amongst 500 selected customers. A smaller portion of the sample was also given the opportunity to make payments of up to €15 at a range of outlets.The trial is due to end in May and could give useful insights into take-up of the technology.

The article wraps up by predicting that in the future, the mobile phone will replace swipecards for accessing offices and hotel rooms, as well as paper tickets at concert venues.

Certainly based on some of the innovation that Japanese operators showcased at the Mobile World Congress, the idea of NFC handsets for accessing buildings is probably more imminent
than we think (according to NTT DoCoMo around 100,000 of their Tokyo subscribers open the door to their home with their handset).

If only operators and Banks would end their squabbling over revenue sharing, an acceleration of the use of NFC-enabled phones for mobile payments could be just round the corner...

Friday, March 7, 2008

IIR Mobile Internet Conference-Berlin

I'm pretty excited about the next Mobile Internet Conference organised by IIR Telecoms & Technology in Berlin's prestigious Kempinski Hotels at the end of the month.

The line up of speakers is impressive and confirms the trend evident at the Mobile World Congress -Mobile Content (particularly User Generated) is the key to future growth in the sector and is driving the agenda for manufacturers and operators alike.

It is not easy to single out key speakers from the line-up, but I'm going to be particularly tuned in to Alejandro Romero (Yahoo Spain), Simon Davis (Socialight), Reg Cox (Vodafone UK) and Mark Bole (Shozu).

Top of the agenda will be how to drive monetization of Mobile Social Networking and different models for diviing up responsibilities amongst stakeholders of the mobile ecosystem.

Being a big believer in simple browsing on mobile handsets as THE key to drive users to the mobile web, I am keen to hear from Flash Networks how they see future technology assisting the quest for universal i-phone style (or better!) browsing.