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Hooking mobile users on cricket

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Wisden Group's Cricinfo is set for a big score with its mobile phone value-added services.

ANIL NAIR, Creative Head, Wireless Media, Cricinfo.
ANIL NAIR, Creative Head, Wireless Media, Cricinfo.

Swetha Kannan

Cricket is ideally placed for the mobile phone. It started with SMS scores but as technology grows, activities on the mobile phone are getting more sophisticated.

Despite talk that cricket is losing its sheen in India, all that will change come March with the World Cup. As marketers queue up to woo consumers in all possible ways, here is one company that plans to bat with the ubiquitous mobile phone. Wisden Group's Cricinfo is looking to score big - not with its hugely popular portal but with its mobile phone value-added services.

According to industry estimates, the mobile value-added services industry is worth Rs 2,850 crore ; it could be Rs 4,560 crore by end-2007. And cricket is a key revenue driver of this. Cricinfo Mobile plans to tap into this "greenfield territory" during the World Cup, says Anil Nair, Creative Head, Wireless Media, Cricinfo.

Cricinfo works with Bangalore-based company Dhruva Interactive for its mobile phone applications and offers games, scores, alerts, ring tones and audio match analysis, apart from an application called `Cricinfo Genie', which allows consumers to watch cricket live on their phones in an animated format.

Besides launching a slew of applications during the tournament, including a new version of Genie and World Cup-related games and trivia, Cricinfo Mobile will promote its services aggressively by buying online inventory and advertising on niche Web sites. Cricinfo believes all this will lead to a 25 per cent increase in uptake of all its mobile services during the World Cup. It is also expecting a 10-15 per cent conversion (of audience) from its portal Cricinfo to its mobile platform, as Nair believes the mobile phone will be the preferred medium of the future. (There are 3-4 million unique visitors to Cricinfo.com a month.)

"Cricket is ideally placed for the mobile phone. We were one of the earliest providers of mobile cricket content. It started as a basic need through SMS scores when one couldn't watch the match as he was away from the TV or travelling. But as technology is growing and handsets are getting better, activities on the mobile phone are getting more sophisticated. Although SMS still dominates the range of value-added services, its market is slowly being saturated. We are trying to prepare for the next stage through more complex applications through channels like MMS and WAP sites," explains Nair.

About 15 per cent of the mobile phone subscriber base in India (140 million users with a projection of 200 million by 2010) is on the GPRS platform that enables such applications. And a large portion of that is in the 15-25 age bracket. So there is a huge market waiting to be tapped.

Gaming is another area that Cricinfo is upbeat about. Nair says those hooked onto games will soon start looking at the mobile phone for active gaming. "We are looking to work with game developers and specialists to cash in on gaming," says Nair. Gaming will be an important part of our portfolio, he says.

Apart from the diehard fans in India, Cricinfo is also the staple diet of expatriates in the US through its Web site. Cricket fans in the US can also download for free Cricinfo's `Cricketcast' onto their mobile phones and read a `ball-by-ball' match commentary live.

The company's mobile division plans to introduce its SMS short code for scores and cricket alerts. Cricinfo is in talks with a couple of mobile technology developers for this.

Says Nair: "Cricinfo is a strong brand in the US. It is a key market for Cricinfo as watching cricket on the TV here is expensive. The second highest traffic on Cricinfo.com comes from the US. With the World Cup to be played in the West Indies, the US is also in the right time zone."

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated February 22, 2007)
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