Mobile messaging services seem to be flavor of the season. Services like Line and WeChat are currently doing a media blitzkrieg with advertising across television, YouTube and even FM radio. The great daddy of everything mobile messaging, WhatsApp, meanwhile continues to dominate with both active users and usage, while Hike, “the Indian” messaging app, seems to have its own loyal followers. One service, however, and probably one of the early movers, remains out of the spotlight. Until today. Also Read - WhatsApp alternatives: 3 secure messaging apps you can tryAlso Read - COAI advocates 'level-playing field' regulations for WhatsApp, Skype, Viber like OTT players
Viber, which was launched three years ago as a free voice-calling app and essentially competing with Skype, today took its first step at monetization by launching its sticker market from where users can buy stickers to use it in their conversations. In May, Viber announced it had 200 million registered users globally and hasn’t shared any number since. “We have been adding half-a-million users a day since then. We have 15 million registered users in India and millions of them are active every month,” Talmon Marco, Viber’s founder and CEO, told BGR India exclusively over a Viber call. Also Read - TRAI asks if WhatsApp, Skype, Viber, and Hike should be regulated by the government
The sticker store is just the first step Marco is taking to pull in revenues. Though many might find a sticker store odd for a service that is popularly perceived as a voice calling service. “That’s a misconception. Our users use Viber 50 percent more to send messages than make calls,” he claims. Adding, “We will have a much better understanding of the kind of revenues from stickers only by the end of next quarter.”
Surprisingly, it seems stickers make for good business in the mobile messaging space. Japan’s Line, one of Viber’s rivals, announced last week that 20 percent of the rise in its net sales was attributed to stickers. It pulled in $100 million in revenues, mostly from stickers and in-game purchases, last quarter.
Unlike his aggressive rivals, however, Marco is not looking at advertising Viber and is counting on its users to spread the word. “Our aim is to build out the best possible product. Making our service better and better and better,” he says. He isn’t a believer of the freemium model either, where revenues can be generated by placing ads within the app. “We have very limited space in mobile devices. I don’t want to clutter the UI with ads.”
Apart from launching the sticker store, Viber is also launching a push to talk feature, which it claims to be better than what its rivals provide. “Others use Push To Talk like voice messages. It records your voice, uploads it, then the other person downloads it and finally listens to it. There is a gap of 45-60 seconds for a 15 second message while Viber does it all together and takes 4-6 seconds,” Marco explains.
But a threat bigger than rivals for Viber are certain governments, including India, that are setting or planning to set laws that would heavily regulate services like Viber with requests for setting up a server in the country to route incoming and outgoing traffic and handing over the “master key” for the government to snoop in. “We haven’t heard directly from the Indian government. We do not have access to voice data traffic,” says Marco. “We have been blocked a couple of times in Saudi Arabia but we have refused access to the government. Meanwhile other services that were asked for similar access were not blocked,” Marco accuses, hinting at his rivals bowing down to government pressures.
Meanwhile, Viber today also launched the Android tablet version of the app, which allows users to be on a call on Viber and send messages simultaneously. One great feature is that users can seamlessly shift a call from one device to another without hanging up. “It takes just 3-4 seconds and the other person doesn’t even realize that you have shifted devices,” Marco exclaims.
Viber is also planning to launch the facility to call non-Viber users on their phone numbers from the app, becoming the second avenue for generating revenues. Others, like Skype, have done it in the past and it remains to be seen how Viber can be different. One advantage Viber has is users don’t have to sign up for the service and their phone number becomes their id, Skype has the scale and Microsoft’s marketing muscle.
You can download Viber for your desktop or smartphone from here.