Like other news media companies worldwide, O Globo is trying to build products that can be consumed on the go — whether readers are at work, at home, at their child’s football practice, or sitting in traffic.

“O Globo should be delivering information, traffic conditions, theater/shows, articles/critiques based on his or her geo-location if possible,” says Melissa Beltrão, head of the digital business unit at O Globo. “We should have few, but very strong and relevant products in our portfolio.”

Beltrão estimates 10% of O Globo’s audience comes through a smartphone. That number likely will be 35% at some point this year.

2013 marks the first year in which smartphone sales have bypassed feature phones in Brazil:

  • Smartphones sales are up 110% in the country compared to 2012. 

  • Post-paid plans reached nearly 21% of mobile connections in July 2013, growing their share of total subscriptions. This is the fifth consecutive year post-paid plans have topped pre-paid plans. 

“Mobile usage is growing very fast in Brazil,” Beltrão says. “And this is not big news. Mobile audiences are exploding worldwide since 2010. However, the revenue is not following this extraordinary growth. Everybody knows mobile should be at the top of everyone’s strategy. But it is not a trivial concern that the monetisation is not yet there.”

O Globo is seeing huge growth on its mobile site and, for the past six months, has been researching and benchmarking user behaviour, expectations, and needs. Based on that information, the company is rebuilding its mobile product, adding functionalities that have come to light from the research. 

“Two years ago, mobile usage was very focused on search and service,” Beltrão says. “People were looking for rapid, immediate answers. Now people are really consuming news, content, articles, even long articles, meaning that mobile usage is very similar to desktop usage.”

In terms of new products and opportunities, O Globo focuses on those that bring value to advertisers and readers, such as an app for a carnival or local food festival.

O Globo’s mobile strategy is different for smartphones than for tablets:

  • For tablets, the strategy is closer to the newspaper structure.

  • For smartphones, the company is creating new products, new approaches, and not necessarily adapting the print newspaper to the smartphone platform.

A good example of a digital product born without the newspaper structure and language is VaiRio, a traffic app launched in April 2013 that gives users the ability for geo-localisation and personalisation. The app offers traffic alerts based on the user’s most-used routes, factoring in streets and time of day.

“News related to traffic is geo-localised by our newsroom and a team located at strategic places around Rio de Janeiro,” Beltrão says. “The app reinforces our position and goal to offer a relevant service to users.” 

From day one, the app had a sponsor. O Globo also is experimenting with geo-localised advertising.

“A traffic app is the best way to start learning how to monetise mobile,” Beltrão says.

On the opposite end of the app success spectrum is O Globo’s news app: “We finally realised it does not make sense to have the same content, services, experience as we have on the mobile site. The app should offer a different experience.”

Audience analysis is a problem in Brazil, Beltrão says.

“We know few things about our mobile audience,” she says. “In Brazil, we have no metrics for mobile like comScore, Nielsen. Our market has not woken up yet about how mobile measurement is important to educate and to grow the market.

“What we know about our audience is based on online questionnaires: Mobile users are younger than print users, and mobile users are more often men (soccer news!) than women.”

To help with the lack of metrics, O Globo began a registration wall in 2013 on its Web and mobile sites, hoping to gather more audience data. 

Currently, O Globo is not charging users for smartphone services. Yet, in addition to the registration wall, the company is analysing a paywall. 

Beltrão believes media companies can only charge for premium services. One model is to combine free content (news, traffic, etc.) with premium services (personal finances) for a “freemium” option.

Beltrão does not expect smartphone revenue to be a significant stream of revenue, estimating mobile revenue to represent 10% of total digital revenue by the end of 2014. The media company has experimented with native app, banner, and location-based advertising, as well as QR codes and Augmented Reality.

“Sponsorship is the model that has been seen as the most interesting so far,” Beltrão says. “We used to sell our mobile inventory through ad networks. That is not a good strategy when you want to learn how to sell mobile. You should have control of it.”

This is one of 17 case studies featured in the recent INMA strategic report “The Smartphone Choices for Media Companies.” For more information on this report, free to INMA members, click here