Category Archives: Mobile

AOL’s Sale to Verizon: All Eyes on Mobile and Video

Verizon’s announcement today that it will buy AOL for $4.4 billion is a bid to get beyond dumb pipes and airwaves to get deeply into mobile and video. By doing so, Verizon, a $200 Billion company,  hopes to play on more of a level playing field with other major telecom players combining access to content and personalization services, especially Comcast (with NBC U) and  AT&T (with Direct TV.)

The all-cash deal provides a 150 percent return for shareholders in AOL from when CEO Tim Armstrong came on board in 2009. The price is 17 percent above the current stock price. And at the lower price – which may ultimately be even lower if some of the content properties are sold – a lot less is riding on it.

Have you seen this movie before in 2000, when AOL was disastrously sold to Time Warner for $165 Billion?  A lot of the same synergies are being discussed:  video on demand, personalized content and subscription revenue.

But this time, it is really all about mobile; video on mobile; and the prospect of converting (or selling) 2.1 million dialup subscribers that continue to be AOL’s biggest moneymaker. Indeed,  AOL has built or bought a powerful arsenal of mobile ad serving and video tech, especially LTE Multicast, which uses its cellular network to broadcast live video.

In our view, content is not likely to be an important factor here.  It would have been more important if AOL had merged with Yahoo, or with Microsoft.  The biggest “what if” probably involves MapQuest, which has technically lagged behind mapping leaders but retains a powerful, verb-like brand in that space.  Given Uber’s $3 Billion bid to buy Nokia’s HERE, it may ultimately emerge as an important factor in the deal – much more so than Huffington Post.  AOL’s sizable effort to make Huffington Post into a super content portal, including a major local dimension, failed dramatically last year. Similarly, Armstrong’s huge, multi-hundred million dollar effort with hyperlocal site Patch amounted to very little.

To some degree, we also see Verizon’s acquisition of AOL as an acqui-hire. Verizon has  stumbled around advertising for several years but not had an impact. It also has made some small investments in content and classified properties, but hasn’t been confident enough to really spend. Its biggest effort was a promotional program with the NFL to broadcast games for free.

We like the statement issued in the name of Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam, who we note, has long had his eye on geotargeted advertising. “Verizon’s vision is to provide customers with a premium digital experience based on a global multi-screen network platform. This acquisition supports our strategy to provide a cross-screen connection for consumers, creators and advertisers to deliver that premium customer experience.”

Uber’s $3 Billion Bid for Nokia’s HERE: Too Much, Too Soon

As my colleague Mitch Ratcliffe points out, Uber is apparently bidding $3 billion to buy Nokia’s HERE mapping service (which was formerly NAVTEQ.) It is a huge bid that comes out of left field. But does it make sense?

A case could be made for it. Uber seems especially eager to juice its valuation before the IPO. It wants to reposition itself as an ecommerce leaders and move away from its current reality as a collection of freelance drivers. Moreover, the number of mapping competitors that it could partner with is definitely shrinking. It comes down to Google, Microsoft and perhaps, MapQuest.

If successful, Uber would control a highly customizizable mapping service that would provide shortcuts and accuracy for its deliveries of people and it hopes, commerce. HERE’s international orientation is appealing for Uber, which is a true worldwide play.

Owning HERE would especially be helpful in the next age of driver-less, autonomous vehicles (AVs), which would be highly dependent on accurate, strategically efficient information. Deep mapping is also an area that Google and Microsoft have ID’d as their competitive advantage. Watching Yelp keep its advantage against Google while depending on its search engine is enough proof to realize that depending on Google as a common carrier isn’t an ideal strategy.

But this age of AVs isn’t likely to occur for 10 years or longer. And only small items like toothbrushes and shaving cream are being delivered by existing Uber drivers. While it has aspirations and vision aplenty, it isn’t yet an ecommerce company. When/if it becomes one, a whole new set of competitors come into play (Fedex, UPS, USPS, Amazon, WalMart , Safeway).

We applaud the vision, and don’t count Uber out at all. The competitors listed above could as easily become major partners. In fact, this could be the biggest play of all. But the idea that Uber should spend $3 billion — which would only be a down payment on the high maintenance mapping industry — seems like it is too much, too soon. Google is likely to be a perfectly good and safe partner for a number of years.

ReachLocal Now Captures SMB Leads from Across the Web

Leads are coming from everywhere, and the digital marketing firms have adjusted to this reality. ReachLocal, for one, has now opened up its ReachEdge lead conversion and marketing automation software. It now has the capability to track leads and other activity from a wide variety of unassociated marketing sources.

Chief Product Officer Kris Barton briefed BIA/Kelsey on the ReachEdge’s evolution, noting that the company’s efforts to increase transparency and simplicity will ultimately boost conversion rates. Barton says that “decoupling” the software is the direct result of customer input. Some customers, for instance, had invested in redesigned website and didn’t want to have to abandon it in order to sign up with Reach.

The new version of ReachEdge is $149 a month and includes a free trial. It also features plug-ins for publishing systems such as WordPress and Drupal. The software has also been enhanced for mobile. Customers can use their phones to receive emails and text alerts. It also has integrated reports that are “focused entirely on ROI” and are much clearer than Google Analytics, says Barton.

MyTime to Compete for Scheduling, SMB Services

We’ve long seen scheduling as a possible anchor for SMB marketing services (coupons, leads, promotions, analytics, upsells et al). Obviously, we are not alone. More than 75 players are positioning themselves to lead the way in scheduling, including MindBody, Booker, Intuit, ReachLocal, Yodle, Square, GenBook, Agendize, Schedulicity, Moon Valley Software, MaxiPage, Hakema and others.

An alternative approach to the space has been taken by PingUp, a new player that just launched this week, and three- year- old MyTime. Both players have focused primarily on searching, aggregating and confirming online appointments from scheduling providers, while adding in marketing services as an additional layer.

From its inception, however, MyTime has also positioned itself up as an intermediary and a media and commerce channel in its own right. Now, MyTime has crossed the line, armed with a new round of $9.25 Million from Khosla, Upfront Ventures, shopping mall giant Westfield and others — on top of $3 Million raised in 2012.

While it will continue to aggregate and work with other scheduling providers, the 100 person, San Francisco-based company will also compete directly against them via two products: MyTime Scheduler, a sophisticated scheduling program.; and MyTime Marketplace, a “fully responsive consumer destination to find and book appointments with nearby service businesses.”

The services cost from $9.99 to $39.99 a month, depending on the number of employees supported and types of services taken. The pricing is seen as significantly lower than other scheduling software providers.

Anderson notes that the launch of MyTime’s Scheduler and Marketplace products is a natural extension of its appointment aggregation service, which is already driving “nearly one million people” a month to its Web site and mobile apps. He contends that the company’s efforts have also been set apart by a more seamless consumer experience.

Driving MyTime’s new strategy is the rapid adoption of mobile tools and services by consumers. “We know consumers prefer to book and pay for things through their smartphones now, but most businesses haven’t made it possible to book them online yet,” says Anderson. “Everyone knows that consumers are ahead of the SMBs.”

Businesses that take leads from MyTime will pay a 37 percent commission. MyTime also provides an attractive 2.69 percent rate for payments, undercutting Square’s 2.75 percent commission.

The company says it has built a relationship with 10,000 businesses, with 1,000 new businesses are signing up a month. Anderson hopes to see that number double or triple during the next quarter and converted into paying accounts– due in part, to the new products, and its sales team. “Our goal is to go after the two million local businesses and get them on Scheduler within 5 years,” he says.


MyTime CEO Ethan Anderson

Angie’s List Goes ‘Mobile First’

Angie’s List, which has recently seen a deterioration in its stock as investors have lost confidence in its ability to grow its premium subscription and ad model, has announced that it has gone Mobile First. The changeover is significant because the company, which has nearly three million users, has continued to support a wide variety of media. Many years after other companies went all digital, for instance, Angie’s has continued to provide personalized phone referrals to its well heeled (and older) home owner customer base.

The move to mobile first is accompanied by the launch of a new mobile app, which offers “concierge level” help for consumers seeking to hire the right service and medical professionals. It provides research for providers; shop for specific home improvement services; and “SnapFix” a project, automatically assigning service pros to projects based on specifications.

“We studied our members’ behavior and directly asked them what they want from us,” noted a company press release quoting founder Angie Hicks. “As a result, we’re not just connecting them to highly rated service companies through a swipe or a click, we’re stepping into the transaction, improving their experiences start to finish.”

A press note added that the new efforts are “symbolic of the corporate shift from just providing highly reliable information to getting in the middle of transactions to make the hiring process easier and the results better, faster.”

We’ll be diving deep into the future of Home Improvement services with local digital leaders from The Home Depot, Thumbtack and Serviz on Day 1 of the Leading in Local conference in San Francisco Dec. 3-5. You may register here.

Money2020: ApplePay Drives Mega Event

The emergence of geo-targeting and mobile payment and wallet technologies has meant that we talk a lot less about the future of “advertising” than “marketing.” All this was crystal clear this week at the third annual edition of Money2020 in Las Vegas, a showcase for payment innovations, and a major boomtown, too. Attendance climbed from 4,000 attendees in 2013 to 7,500 attendees this year. Next year, the show will move to much larger quarters at The Venetian, and add a European edition.

BIA/Kelsey participated in this year’s festivities by presenting new research into card linking trends during a special offsite session hosted by The Cardlinx Association.

ApplePay – not part of the program, incidentally — was clearly the big driver of this year’s event, rebuilding momentum lost from earlier efforts by Google Wallet and others. As Visa President Ryan McInerney noted, the high awareness of ApplePay generally, and its use of tokenization has brought a real sense that payment technologies have moved beyond credit card account numbers towards high impulse and efficient transactions.

It will also help open the door to a new generation of payments, promotions and services – even if many features, such as NFC contactless payments, won’t be in widespread use for several years. Kicking off the show, McKinsey & Co.’s Philip Bruno and Kausik Rajgopal highlighted six major payment themes. These included:

1. Point of Sale evolution
2. Payment security
3. Crypto-currency
4. Globalization of commerce
5. New credit models
6. New partnerships and acquisitions

Things are happening very fast in this space, noted Bruno. It was just 17 years ago that ecommerce began. It has now crossed the trillion dollar mark.

American Express CEO Kenneth Chennault, during an opening interview, said that when it comes down to payment innovation, it all comes down to one thing: Merchants want to grow sales. Does the innovation “help merchants meet customer needs?” he asked. “Do they provide incentives for changing customer behavior?”

Chennault expressed confidence that Amex, for one, is providing marketing insights that “allow us to provide different types of promotions and offers to drive more business. Not just acceptance, but engagement,” he emphasized.

Other industry leaders also spoke about appealing to merchant needs. Heartland Payments CEO Bob Carr, for instance, said that they key thing with payment innovations is not to give advantages to a merchant’s best customers without disintermediating merchant margins. “The problem with othwerwise useful sites like OpenTable and GrubHub is that they disintermediate margins,” he said.

Money2020: First Data, Poynt Show Off Mobile POS Solutions


The Point of Sales revolution that began with Square’s introduction of its iPhone fob in 2009 has continued unabated. Rising consumer expectations, increased mobile and WiFi access and more tools have made POS a strategic tool that could not have been imagined a few years ago.

Among the new breed of solutions are ReachLocal’s ReachCommerce suite; Groupon’s Genome; Heartland’s Leaf; and First Data‘s Clover, which now has 26,000 terminals in the field after its initial release seven months ago.

First Data purchased Clover in October 2013. The tablet-based system was seen as the cornerstone of a new strategy that would update First Data’s reliable, table-based POS terminals. The acquisition of Clover was also designed to integrate with its Perka loyalty program, which was acquired at the same time; and its Insightics analytics.

At Money2020 in Las Vegas this week, First Data unveiled a new mobile -first extension of its Clover station. Poynt similarly showed off its own new mobile-first terminal. Both companies’ mobile terminals are attractive, Apple-like, white hardware mini-tablets. Clover boasts a handle to better hold on to its tablet, while Poynt features a large bump.

A major part of both their strategies is to accept a number of third party Apps. Clover now has dozens of Apps in its store and hopes to have 100 by year-end. The Apps often carry monthly add on charges of $5-10 a month, instead of just being sold for a flat fee, like consumer Apps. The Apps provide such features as employee punchcards; instant ratings and reviews; virtual giftcards; coupon managers; and charity donations. Clover and Poynt also boast printing options.