479 — ‘A different approach to SMS: The golden eggs of SMS-teletext chat’. A reflexion of Van Dusseldorp & Partners on the impact of SMS TV services.

Feb 7, 2003 | Conteúdos Em Ingles

The importance of the integration of TV and media concepts with SMS and mobile-based interactivity in the context of next generation mobile services was the hot dish served yesterday at ‘SMS Meets TV Seminar’ organised by Van Dusseldorp & Partners (VDP) at D. Pedro Hotel in Lisbon. The attempts to increase the level of intereoperability between mobile networks and MMS users was also focused by seminarists that included Robert Marsh (Channel 4 UK), Job Wagensveld (Endemol, Netherlands) and Fernando Enrile (Sogecable, Spain). Monique van Dusseldorp, CEO of VDP leaves here some reflexions on the impact of SMS on TV.

If you were to visit the Dutch SBS teletext page 666, you would see the same types of messaging passing by as can be seen in online chatrooms. “Who are you?”, “Why are you here?”, “Do you want to get in touch?”, “Are you a fan of Feyenoord?”, “Who wants to have sex?”, “Alright, I’m heading off now”, “Hello, here I am”, “Hey, are you there?”

There is of course a huge difference between the two media. The messages on sees on television are SMS messages sent to the channel at a rate of 0.20 euros per message, by viewers seated in front of the television screen, with their mobile phones in hand. One might ask why – and the answer is equally obvious: in order to see and be seen on television.

The service is popular. While watching, 23 messages by people with the most exotic pseudonyms pass by in one minute; almost too fast to read them all! Due to the popularity of the service, it can take hours before a message appears on screen. Other SBS pages exist to allow more personal contact: at a rate of 0.25 euros, it is possible to send messages in return. Voila! Dating via television.

A growing number of European television channels allow viewers to send messages to the channel via SMS. Sometimes, this takes place via a teletext page like SBS does; sometimes chat messages are also displayed at the bottom of the television screens. One example from Finland has the channel output reduced to a VJ who occupies roughly 25 per cent of the screen, while the larger part of the screen is reserved for chat messages: “You look nice today”, “What did you say?”, “That’s not true!”, “Hello, are we all here again?”.

In the United Kingdom, SkyDigital has launched a dating channel which participants can use by chatting with SMS. In Germany, RTL II has opened its teletext services to SMS chatting – and is now generating close to 200,000 SMS messages each day. The Flemish VTM reports that it receives an average 15,000 messages per day on teletext chat. According to VTM, teletext chat has even become the most popular SMS service of the moment, because it has started to lead its own life. The number of messages reported appears to be a stable figure.

So how does sending an SMS message to a broadcasting station work? A fee is charged, that much is clear. But where does the money go? Profits are shared with the mobile phone operators, who see their SMS traffic significantly increase thanks to the service. Operator charges currently vary between 35 per cent and 50 per cent in Europe. The remainder still has to be divided between other parties.

Also, a number of SMS services exist that are connected to television shows. In this case, there are often three parties that have to share the remainder after operators have taken their cut. The parties are: the channel itself, the producer of the programme and the service provider. A phenomenon of some new shows has been the production company acquiring all the SMS profits before the TV channel realises it should have had a share. Sometimes a wiser broadcaster takes all and the producer is restricted to providing formats.

In all cases, someone that has contacts with all the mobile operators in the country is needed to manage the SMS traffic. This third category has sometimes expanded to related activities, such as the invention of lucrative formats that generate large amounts of SMS .

In any case, television makers are becoming cleverer in the creation of programmes that produce the maximum benefit form this unexpected source of interactive revenue. In Finland, viewers of ice-hockey matches can vote for the “Man of the Match”. With one million viewers per game and a fee of 0.59 euros per message, this is an interesting source of revenue: between 3 per cent and 4 per cent of the audience participates.

Another example is the show “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” television viewers can register to participate, and then have to answer five successive SMS questions, generating a lot of money per player, of course. “Jede Sekunde Zahit”, a German television show, collected 1.2 million messages within 20 minutes a few years ago, as people voted on the further development of the show.

One of the problems encountered, however, concerns the capacity of SMS exchanges during peak hours. From the perspective of broadcasters, a constant stream of messages is preferable. SMS teletext-chat is not only a bizarre combination of SMS and television; it is also generating the largest service-based revenues in Europe.

In the Netherlands, SMS chat applications using television have been introduced on a large scale during the last two years. Both SBS6 and RTL offer teletext-chat services, which generate tens of million of SMS messages per year. Cleverer still is the service offered by channel TMF: if you participate in SMS chat, there is a chance that your picture will be shown on screen.

What exactly is the attraction to the public of these chats via television, and why is the development so interesting to the new media sector? In the first place, because it demonstrates yet again how eager people are to see and hear themselves. Most of the fun comes from the experience of seeing yourself on screen, and, in order to achieve this, people are prepared to spend generously, via their mobile phone bill.

Everyone pays for sending information and communication is becoming an integral part of media budgets. For media companies that are attentive, the question has become: how much are people eventually prepared to spend in order to keep seeing themselves on television?

In the United States, Kodak is experimenting with a service that allows the sending of televised digital photos to friends and relatives, while a British company has invented a system that allows any received SMS message to be displayed on television. Finally, next generation chat specifically enables one to display messages from friends on the screen. Of course, the television is placed centrally in the household, and ‘everyone’ now owns a mobile phone.

Slowly the TV-screen is becoming a channel for new communication. And at the same time, one could also say it is evolving in a new direction as a media channel: certainly lots of people only watch to read the passing stream of exotic SMS language.

Monique van Dusseldorp, CEO of VDP
Matthijs Leendertse, senior research associate of VDP


Van Dusseldorp & Partners is a Dutch consultant helping companies in Europe to develop their digital media business strategies by providing relevant research and consulting services.


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