BlackBerry Messenger is set to go cross-platform

Neha Dharia, Analyst, Consumer

BlackBerry has announced that its popular social messaging service, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), will be offered on the Android and iOS platforms as well as on BlackBerry devices. BBM was previously restricted to BlackBerry devices, and the number of BBM users was negatively impacted as the handset manufacturer lost smartphone market share.

BBM’s cross-platform ambitions will allow it to reach a wider audience, and also raise important issues around monetising the service. The untethering of BBM from BlackBerry devices has made the social messaging battle a lot more interesting.

A twist in the social messaging tale

The social messaging landscape is transforming at a rapid pace. BBM, WhatsApp, and Skype were the early disruptors of the SMS market; following closely on their heels were Facebook Chat and Google Chat. Other handset developers also joined the race, with services such as Samsung’s ChatON, but they failed to gain a significant user base.

Adding to the crowded landscape are regional giants such as Line, KakaoTalk, and WeChat, which have made solid inroads into overseas markets and are now becoming formidable global players. Meanwhile, BBM began to slowly decline as BlackBerry gradually lost device market share.

This was the story until now. However, just when many thought BBM would slowly fade away and attention would shift to other players, there has been a twist in the social messaging tale. BBM is back, with a new strategy that divorces the messaging service from the handset, and can now be seen as a stronger player in the social messaging market.

BBM is trying to keep up with messaging evolution

The move by BBM highlights the fast pace of evolution in the messaging market. In order for services to survive, not only do they need to be free or cost efficient (BBM can be accessed for free on the latest BB10 handsets), but they also need to go beyond messaging and begin the transition to a social content platform.

Messaging services will find it increasingly difficult to survive without complementary services such as gaming, mobile commerce, and even screen and location sharing. BBM is not only offering its service on other platforms but is also including a range of additional services such as calendar sharing and voice notes.

Messaging will remain the core foundation and the anchor service, but most players will need to slowly move towards becoming a social content platform in order to be competitive and successfully monetize their services.

BBM creates “Channels” of monetisation

The introduction of BBM Channels sets the foundation for monetising the service without relying on subscription revenues. With the introduction of the BB10 range of handsets, BBM could be accessed without paying for the BIackBerry Internet Service subscription plan, which essentially cut out the main revenue stream for the service.

BBM Channels is a social platform that allows users and brands to connect, and where users can subscribe to newsfeeds from celebrities and brands. The details of this service are not yet available, but it seems to follow a similar business model to the B2C marketing channels of Line (Official Accounts) and KakaoTalk (Plus Friend). KakaoTalk has not released detailed financial results for Plus Friend, but it did estimate that the service drew approximately $11m in 2012.

This suggests that the introduction of BBM Channels is not only a service enhancement to drive engagement on the platform, but is also laying the foundation for a strong monetisation strategy.

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