At the keynote address for BlackBerry Live 2013 by Thorsten Heins yesterday a few new twists were unveiled for the future of BlackBerry (NASDAQ:BBRY). The most important announcement is probably the most confusing for some investors and that is the news that BBM (BlackBerry Messenger) will be going "cross platform" this summer. BlackBerry has decided to open up BBM to iOS and Android users and make it a universal application. It was announced that BBM would be a free application to all platforms and with that came the inevitable question, "If it's free, how does BlackBerry make money"?
What exactly is BBM in its current form?
- BBM is first and foremost a Messaging platform currently only available to BlackBerry users.
- It has 60 million active users.
- There are approx 10 billion BBM messages processed daily.
- BBM users average approx 90 minutes of use daily in one form or another
- Users enjoy message "D" for delivered and "R" for read feedback when messages are sent, delivered and read.
- There is the ability to form BBM Groups so that up to 30 people can enjoy a group chat which is a feature used and enjoyed by many Enterprise customers.
- Users can share photos.
- BBM offers the ability for Audio and Video chatting as well as the ability to "share screens" during video chats.
What does the competition look like?
- WhatsApp (200 million users) offers a "free" messaging system but lacks the premium features that BBM offers (Video, Groups, Screen sharing).
- Twitter (500 million users) is more of a Social Network based on limited (140 Character) "tweets."
- ooVoo- (75 million users) Limited messaging ability.
- Instagram (100 million users) Photograph focused, messaging ability.
- Kik Messenger (50 million users) Limited, text messaging platform.
- Skype (280 million users) Voice and Audio messaging service.
BBM with its current 60 million active users sits at the lower end of the count in terms of overall users. Now that it gets opened up to iOS and Android users we will see this user base grow very rapidly. It offers a premium range of services when compared to the competition and it is free to boot. It is not unrealistic to see BBM grow to 500 million users by the end of 2013.
BlackBerry also announced a new feature for BBM called BBM Channels.
BBM Channels features:
- Create a channel - Create, edit and publish in an instant, and there are no limits to the number of followers you can have in your channel. Securely manage your channel from either a BlackBerry smartphone or the web.
- Discover channels - BBM Channels includes a carousel that lets you discover new channels. You can share channel invites within a BBM chat, and people can be added or invited using the channel's PIN or QR code. -- View - View profiles for each BBM Channel you choose to follow.
- Subscribe - Subscribing to a channel allows the channel owner to send you timely and relevant updates, giving the subscriber instant access to your news, deals, events or whatever you want to communicate. Subscribers can choose to receive notifications when new posts are available.
- Participate - Participate and engage in conversations with your favorite people or communities by "Commenting" and "Liking" posts from channels you subscribe to. Channel owners have the option to directly chat one- on-one with a subscriber.
- Monitor engagement - Easily use built-in measuring tools to assess and monitor follower engagement and interaction.
This new feature takes BBM beyond just a "messaging " platform and turns it into a hybrid Social Media/Messaging application. It can now directly compete with the likes of Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter while at the same time keeping true to its premium messaging roots.
Having a large base of active users is a very attractive proposition for corporations. Business, retailers, celebrities and key brands can directly interact with these users and that means money.
- Discreet advertising can and will become part of BBM Channels.
- BBM is already a key feature in many Apps available on the BB10 platform. This means BBM is not only cross platform but can now be cross application. Some examples of this can be found in the latest Songza and Texas Hold'em applications for BB10. These apps are taking advantage of the active users and groups within BBM to engage the app users directly and allowing more functionality.
- BBM Money is another feature that facilitates banking and financial transactions between users. Currently pilot testing in Indonesia, BBM Money will allow user to user financial transactions as well as become a built in payment system for BBM Channels.
The implications for making BBM a cross platform application are huge. The opportunities to monetize will grow as they have with any other social media application. The key for BlackBerry is to grow that base and by offering it for free to iOS and Android users they will do just that. This is a smart move on the part of BlackBerry and fits in nicely with Thorsten Heins stated goal of putting a slice of BB10 everywhere. Active users of the service can effectively become the de facto "subs" that bears like to point out BlackBerry has been losing. By having a large and growing user base actively engaged in BBM, BlackBerry can influence future smartphone buyers to look at the BlackBerry offering directly as a smartphone option while at the same time "engaging" non BlackBerry users on a daily basis.
Once the market fully comprehends the value that can be unlocked with BBM the case for BlackBerry becomes more bullish.
Disclosure: I am long BBRY. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.