Can Carriers Benefit From OTTs?

September 3, 2013

OTTs are showing signs of partnerships with carriers, but who is benefitting?

There are many signs lately with OTTs partnering with carriers. The most notable one is Viber’s CEO Talmon Marco who suggested sharing revenues with carrier:

Marco suggested a path to reconciliation, though: partnership. He said he won’t pay the telcos for free services, but he’s willing to share revenue for paid services.

To me this was a bit weird – what can a carrier actually gain from sharing the revenues with an OTT player? OTT’s – at least those dealing with messaging don’t really make any considerable market. They have brought the SMS messaging market of the carriers from being a very lucrative market into an unlimited bucket one – something I am sure carriers are less than happy with. And by doing that, it is not that OTT’s have taken the revenue – they just lowered the price down to zero, so whatever money they are making comes from other revenue streams.

I thought that the main beneficial party here is the OTT – the agile, small company, the one with boatloads of free users, get a piece of the action in terms of marketing and publicity in the local area of the carrier. It can even charge carriers for the service in some ways.

Then I read a report on TheNextWeb by Kaylene Hong, where the partnership between WeChat (Tencent’s messaging OTT service) and China Unicom (a large Chinese carrier) ended up with 700,000 customers opting for the new data package:

more than 700,000 users have already placed their orders for the SIM card, called Weixin Woka, by local time 10pm on August 5. The company started accepting pre-orders at midnight.


I wonder who got the better deal here – WeChat, that can now boast a carrier relationship with the relevant marketing that comes along with it – or China Unicom, that gained stickiness to its customers, refreshed its packages for a large amount of users, maybe gaining a few new subscribers in the process, and probably started shifting voice-SMS users to data packages.

I am still debating what other benefits can carriers gain in such OTT deals. Customers can easily use the OTT players directly as well, so besides the incentive of moving users over onto data plans and gaining some brand value – what is there to it?

Who gains more here? The carrier or the OTT?

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