Mobile payments offer revenue, engagement, and data benefits for media

By Shelley Seale


Austin, Texas, USA


Mobile use has been on a fast-rising trajectory for quite a while, but the pandemic accelerated those trends — especially for mobile payments.

“There’s been talk of media companies using mobile phone payments for interactions and subscriptions and e-commerce for years now,” said Mark Challinor, executive producer at INMA. “But since the pandemic and during that time, mobile has become very much the norm for the public at large to use their devices for so much more, payments included. Maybe media’s time is right now.”

In this introduction of a members-only Webinar, Challinor brought in guest speaker Rob Weisz, CEO of Fonix, a company at the forefront of mobile payments. Weisz has been in the mobile space for more than 20 years, with a recent focus on how media companies in particular can monetise the mobile engagement of their audiences.

“As people using their phones became way more sophisticated on a global scale, you saw many brands not really evolving,” he told INMA members. “Digitally changing how they present what they do, but to a large degree not changing from a mobile perspective of how you interact with users.”

Fonix is a mobile payment and messaging technology platform with deep sector experience.
Fonix is a mobile payment and messaging technology platform with deep sector experience.

By using Fonix’s tech, media companies are able to speak to anyone with a mobile phone and engage with them in a real-time way. Weisz shared two ways that can be accomplished.

“The mobile number is a very powerful tool on a couple of levels,” he said. “First of all, everyone’s got one. You can communicate with it in real-time very easily. And very importantly, what Fonix enables, we can also transact with it.”

Other subscription industries such as Netflix and Spotify have embraced mobile payments, and the subscription model of news media companies is also perfect for the platforms of Google Pay, Apple Pay, etc.

“There are hundreds of fantastic media organisations that talk to audiences that can leverage this technology,” Weisz said. “A lot of media companies are starting to say, ‘How do we create diversification of our revenue streams? How do we control our revenue streams to a better effect, rather than relying on advertising partners?’ The world is changing rapidly and will for years moving forward.”

Weisz went on to share several specific case studies of how media companies are using this technology.

Use case: paywalls

The first example was a television pay-per-view sports service, BT Sport, charging customers for premium access to content. Historically, BT Sport offered credit and debit card payments – but the abandonment rate at the check-out page was high because people didn’t want to bother with having to input all that information.

“Anything that’s clunky or cumbersome to get through, the abandonment rate becomes really high,” Weisz said. “So we offered a pay-by-mobile solution that sits alongside credit and debit cards.”

He stressed that mobile payments weren’t meant to replace other payment methods, just give users more choices. BT Sport saw incredible results from offering mobile payments.

  • Basket abandonment rates went down.

  • Conversions went up.

  • Revenue increased.

“This has been hugely popular,” Weisz shared. “The first few events were run as a trial, and the next two years we rolled out mobile payments across all their pay-per-view events. It’s becoming more and more important to them as they’re recognising that there’s no cannibalisation of credit card or debit card. All they’ve seen is an increase in revenue because people want that secure, convenient, and really viable alternate payment method.”

People don’t have to provide any more information than their mobile number to pay this way, which also makes it incredibly easy and frictionless. Across a range of clients, Fonix is seeing a range of anywhere from 10% to 30% of payments come through mobile.

Paywalls are the perfect place for offering mobile payment solutions.
Paywalls are the perfect place for offering mobile payment solutions.

Particularly when purchases are impulse and/or unnecessary, such as with entertainment and much media content, conversion requires a light touch and an extremely fast, private, easy way to complete.

Another benefit is that the company also gains a vital piece of data: the customer’s mobile number. This provides a means of interaction and engagement, in a responsible and permission-granted way.

In the example of BT Sport, the company would know that a particular user was into boxing matches, for example, and could then send a message for upcoming matches the user might be interested in.

“We see incredible results — I’m talking 20, 30, 40% engagement, where people just buy off the back of that message, Weisz said. So, it becomes a pure pay revenue stream without any marketing activity. It’s very powerful.”

Use case: media interactivity

Fonix also worked with a large, high-profile media brand in the U.K. beginning in 2017. Services included SMS billing, charity donations, messaging strategy, and a campaign manager. Every user that engages is profiled, which gives an in-depth and fascinating view of that user over time.

“It allows us to build a huge database,” Weisz said. “With this particular client, we’ve got a seven-figure database of users that have engaged over a number of years.”

Between 2017 and the beginning of 2021, Fonix technology has increased the revenue of this client by 10x — in spite of the big advertising revenue decline during the pandemic.

What has driven that growth?

  • The client initially launched Fonix on one flagship brand, but then introduced it to the entire group.

  • The consumer price point has increased, bringing more revenue with no depreciation in entries.

  • The development of a “members club” means the opt-in database drives more entries and enables non-linear promotions.

“The key message here is this particular client — their ability to control their engagement with consumers, providing highly relevant and high-value content to users — ... can monetise those users in an effective way. We see a huge opportunity to grow this in the future.”

Use case: charity

As more societies go cashless, mobile billing fills the gap as the ubiquitous payment of choice, including for charitable giving. This gives charities the opportunity to provide their donor base with choices, offering a simple text or click donation method using only their mobile number. 

In the post-COVID world, carrier donations and mobile giving are of paramount importance to global charities. It can be a key mechanic to drive donations, whilst supporting corporate responsibility objectives.

“I know a lot of media organisations have huge charity ties,” Weisz said, explaining the relevance. “The mobile operators by and large give this away for free; they see it as a value-add.”

Mobile giving has evolved over the past few years. The average charitable donation via credit or debit card online is around US$50-US$70, whilst the average for mobile donations is only around US$4. This created some concern initially about mobile payments resulting in lower donations across the board.

In the past decade-plus, however, mobile donations have been on the rise and have added to overall donations. Like with the example of the pay-per-view client, mobile payments offer an additional revenue, not a replacement one. Weisz attributed that largely to the frictionless ease of the method, along with privacy concerns.

“People these days are flighty, we’re impulsive, we want no barriers to doing anything. If you’re watching something or reading something and you can donate — if there are any barriers, you tend to not do it. However, when you can simply text in and donate, or you can go online, or you can call in — users just want the most simple way of doing it.”

The ability to then interact with the user via SMS messaging is also huge, garnering high response rates.

“We see huge benefit for the brands we work with, especially in a world where your audiences are fragmented, are distracted, and don’t have time for anything. We need to capture them in the most simple form necessary,” Weisz said.

The future of mobile payments is bright, offering easy and frictionless options for the consumer and advantages for the company.
The future of mobile payments is bright, offering easy and frictionless options for the consumer and advantages for the company.

The future of mobile payments

“You only need to look at the major players — the Googles and Apples out there — they’re embracing carrier billing, because they’re recognising that 20-30% of users that are abandoning the basket,” Weisz said. “Most organisations are not looking at alternative payment methods to ensure they’re giving consumers a really easy way to do it.”

At Fonix, they see that when mobile carrier billing is added as a payment option alongside other existing methods, it becomes a powerful tool that captures where a customer might otherwise be lost. Part of the power is that it captures not only revenue, but also engagement and valuable user information.

“It can demonstrate revenue, build databases, build longevity, build audiences that can deliver proper long-term growth for a business,” Weisz concluded.

About Shelley Seale

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