Telefonica must take device agnostic approach to ‘sponsored data’ trial

Telefonica’s recent announcement of a ‘sponsored content’ trial, where consumers are rewarded for watching an advert by being gifted sponsored mobile data, will be followed closely by the telecoms industry.

It has the potential to become another revenue stream for network operators, but one which is likely to be met with approval from their users.

Should the trial extend to Latin America, an area in which Telefonica has a strong presence, it will be interesting to note the effect. A recent article found that while Latin American is a ‘mobile-first’ market, with the majority of internet access occurring on mobile devices, it is not a smartphone first market, as two-thirds of users still use feature phones.

The other market Telefonica has earmarked for the trial, China, has markedly better smartphone penetration at 47 per cent, but this still leaves over half of the mobile phone touting population using feature phones.

Android is the dominant smartphone OS in both these regions, and it would be easy for Telefonica to create and seed an Android app which would display rich content and would allow the operator to easily provide sponsored data to users as a reward for participating in the trial.

This approach would, however, ignore a massive proportion of Telefonica’s user base in Latin America. All operators rolling out digital content to their users in emerging markets need to take a ‘device agnostic’ approach when distributing content, covering all users regardless of device type or device OS.

In the case of Telefonica’s sponsored content, feature phone users would not be able to view video content, but they could be engaged by being asked to answer a survey, for example.

We also know that in growth markets like India and Africa around 10 per cent of consumers use ‘unknown OS’ devices, cheap Chinese made phones whose design apes that of Samsung and Apple which run Java-based operating systems.

These devices are not compatible with Android or iOS apps but they can still display rich browser-based content. Telefonica would be able to reach these users (and users on less popular mobile OSes like Firefox OS and Windows Phone) by creating a browser-based portal through which consumers could engage with content.

It is also important for Telefonica to ensure that any content it shares is localised and relevant to the end user. Differences between markets can be marked and a ‘one size fits all’ approach to content in growth markets can put users off engaging with a brand.

The differences between China and Latin America may be obvious, but the brands which are looking to take part in Telefonica’s trial need to have local knowledge to know what will work in the various countries within Latin America.

Engaging consumers in growth potential markets like Latin America is increasingly important for brands who are looking to engage the next billion smartphone users, users who at the moment may still use a feature phone but will eventually upgrade to a smart device.

By engaging with them while they are still using a feature phone brands stand a better chance of remaining relevant to these users once they make the leap to the brave world of smartphones.

Marco Veremis is CEO of Upstream.