J'son & Partners Consulting presents brief results of a study on the Russian and world market of mobile messengers. Development prospects in this segment are associated with social commerce and creating self-sufficient multi-purpose platforms that combine a variety of services within the same application.
The largest projects in Russia and the world
The list of the largest messengers in the world includes WhatsApp (1.2 billion users at the end of 2016), Facebook Messenger (1 billion in mid-2016), QQ (900 million in Q3 2016), WeChat (846 million in Q3 2016), Skype (over 300 million at the end of Q1 2016), Viber (260 million at the end of 2016) and Line (217 million at the end of 2016).
In 2016, OTT international voice traffic for the first time exceeded the traditional telephone traffic - 552 billion min. against 546 billion min., respectively.
In Russia, according to the survey conducted by J'son & Partners Consulting, at the end of 2016, VKontakte, WhatsApp and Viber were the three most popular mobile messengers and social networking sites.
Compared to the data from the survey conducted by J'son & Partners Consulting in mid-2015, the project "VKontakte", managed to take off from 5th to 1st place, and Skype (the absolute leader in 2013) moved from 3rd to 4th place after WhatsApp and Viber. The decline in the popularity of Skype in Russia in 2016 is confirmed by other surveys and can be explained by the insufficiently quality of communication, lots of advertising, complicated registration and distribution of contacts compared to other messengers (Viber, WhatsApp and Telegram), as well as the need to maintain an active application for real-time communications.
From toll calls and monthly fees to "social shopping"
After not entirely successful and sometimes unsuccessful attempts of monetization through subscription fees and pay-for calls in mobile and fixed networks, monetization of mobile messengers remains an important issue, and companies are trying to solve it in different ways, for example:
- selling advertising, stickers and souvenirs;
- establishing platforms for third-party applications and services;
- using "social commerce";
- taking fees from owners of business accounts.
Most likely, the messengers will use many different ways for implementing monetization, before they focus on a few key optimal models. One of the most important trends is the transition of major players to the creation of their own platforms for third-party applications.
The largest Russian instant messengers mainly go towards the Chinese project WeChat, which is due to the partnership with millions of companies from different segments (from public transport to food delivery sale of digital content) was able to integrate a large number of services in one application. Users of WeChat, without leaving the application, may, for example, choose a café for breakfast, book a table, call a taxi, choose food from the menu, pay the bill etc.
Using messengers is a model of communications between consumers and brands – at present, Russia in this direction is still taking the initial steps. For example, some retailers do primarily use this channel of communication with their customers in the simplest embodiments (e.g., as a replacement for normal phone). More active messengers are used for online sales (taking orders, booking tickets, supporting services, consulting, etc.). Some companies already are actively using bots that can significantly reduce the cost of customer service.
Projects of cellular operators
So far none of the Russian operators has failed to create a project in the field of mobile messaging which could compete in popularity with existing global brands WhatsApp, Viber etc. However, the operators are not giving up attempting to create similar services. For example, in 2015, the company MTS has launched the MTS Connect messenger, Megaphone in 2016 "reset" "Tifon" (eMotion project), and "VimpelCom" plans to start in 2017 an application called Veon that will combine the functionality of a messenger and aggregator of online services. In the world there are only a few examples of successful launches of mobile messengers. One of them is the project BiP from Turkish mobile operator Turkcell (more than 10 million downloads by the end of Q3 2016). However, the ways to monetize BiP are still unclear.
The largest global messengers are significantly more popular than operator OTT applications, which are generally focused primarily on the operator's own subscribers.
Mobile operators complain that while their work is licensed, mobile messengers provide essentially the same services, their activities are not regulated. In November 2016, Media and Communications Union, which includes, among others, the largest mobile operators, published a draft law on regulation of OTT services. The document, in particular, requires developers of messengers to work in Russia only under the contract with the operators to identify users and limit the disclosure of prohibited information. The development of the bill began in 2015, it was criticized by Internet companies that control the messengers and video services, as well as the expert Council under the Government. However, the need to regulate messengers were supported in the state Duma. The draft strategy of information society development in 2017-2030, published on the website of the Russian security Council, is assumed, in particular, to strengthen legal regulation of the social networking sites and messengers.
The probability of special regulation of messengers in Russia in one form or another, is estimated by J'son & Partners Consulting as high. The main arguments are related to the need of user identification and blocking of undesirable content to prevent illegal actions.