With high speed data networks, content is a significant driver of multi-million dollar investment and is opening up revenue opportunities for operators. For example, operators are looking at building their own app stores and developing partnerships with content providers to deliver compelling content that customers will want and pay for.
One of the benefits that operators can provide to content and app providers is the ability to get paid. They already have the billing and payment relationship with the customers and bundling 3rd party content in offers is already happening as operators are looking to provide more personalized services to customers.
Billing on behalf of others (BOBO) has been around for a while – premium rate SMS is an example. With 3rd party content, there will be a wholesale charge from the content provider to the operator, and there will be the retail charge to the customer. Using BOBO with existing post-paid billing models for content is a bit like going to a store, buying a DVD and promising to come back at the end of the month and pay for the DVD.
Payment for 3rd party content needs to be in real-time. With pre-paid customers, this is fine, the funds can come out of their pre-paid account. However, for bill pay customers, this is where there could be problems. What if the customer defaults on their bill? What if they dispute their bill? What if they’re a bit confused and bought a load of movies, music and games thinking that it was included in their monthly data fee? Who is going to take the hit for write-offs and non-payment? The content provider has supplied the content and will want to be paid.
For bill pay customers buying 3rd party content the content charge can be directed to a credit card, or debit card – just in the same way that app stores currently charge. These content transactions can then appear on the billing system records as paid items, and the operator can apply billing bundles, and cross product usage discounts as normal. Taking this route also gives the real-time payment capability for content, but also enables the operator to include 3rd party content in billing bundles – the content is not being purchased in isolation – it can count towards loyalty schemes and marketing programs that the operator provides.
There is the potential that BOBO for content may not work too well and leave the operator financially exposed due to the time gap between purchase and payment. But content purchases need real-time charging. Using real-time charging on delivery of content can provide a clear view of what content was delivered to the customers and help avoid disputes – both at a retail and wholesale level.