consumer experience, regulation, technologies

Where next for PRS?

A new Thinktank report (pdf doc) prepared for premium phone-paid services regulator, PhonepayPlus, ‘Current & future market for Premium Rate Services’ offers some compelling industry and consumer insights into the Premium Rate Services (PRS) market, particularly consumed via mobile devices.

A contracting PRS market is put down to stringent regulation and heavy fines disincentivising rogue providers.  While a clearly labour-intensive report provided for the regulator which praises the work of the regulator may provoke cynically tossed eyebrows, there is a degree of truth in the claim. 

Despite PhonepayPlus’s most recent, less publicised quarterly reports reflecting a marked downturn in PRS complaints, it could be that there are fewer services to complain about.

A lack services is also reflected in the report’s other major finding that “the single biggest reason why consumers are not using premium rate services is simply that they don’t find the services on offer interesting.”

Less of a trust issue then – although lack of pricing transparency is still cited as an obstacle; more that there’s a basic dearth of decent PRS services out there.  Perhaps technology has moved on and those consumers are now into smartphone services.  Having said this, Thinktank puts the PSMS 2009 market value at £316.7m.  Some people are still spending, and earning.

But there’s certainly greater billing flexibility in the Apple App Store model which is bound to a bank account and therefore unshackled by mobile network operator-mandated tariff points of up to £10 per purchase.  This is one reason services may have switched platforms and payment mechanisms. 

Will this change with evolving media consumption behaviour?  If the paywall model is to gain traction, there could be an effective role for PRS which brings premium rate messaging back into play.  

Payforit – the UK operator mandated mobile internet payment platform – is still only seeing nominal, though not insignificant growth (Thinktank market sizing puts mobile internet billing’s 2009 value at £21.4m), whereas PSMS messaging is broadly considered as quicker and more reliable payment mechanism when used on direct billing platfoms.

PRS market size
Market Sizing, Thinktank. (Based on data from PhonepayPlus)

The regulatory minefield and pricing transparency issues can dissuade some from taking this PSMS route, in spite of its obvious mass market appeal: no smartphone needed.  It’s here that a key challenge lies for the regulator in producing its 12th Code of Conduct: demystifying perceived advertising complexities for industry and, by proxy, brands.

However, in grasping that nettle, brave paywall publishers could easily appeal to readers who have read a certain item:

“You want to hear more about Ashley’s naughty text messages?  Text ‘Ash’ to 84xxx for a secure link to special new content.”

(Example inspired by Orange’s latest Digital Media Index.  At 800% growth, Celebrity search dwarfed the closest search term category, Music, 115% growth). 

Rather than pay a weekly or monthly subscription for all items, behaviourally cherrypicking stories and asking for small premium rate micropayments per story could be an area worth investigating.

consumer experience, regulation, technologies

Too much information?

Over the past week or so I’ve been personally exposed to cross media spam, in addition to an ongoing, tedious issue with my mobile operator, 3UK, which leads to inaccurate SMS notifications telling me I’ve reached my fair use data limit.

(My evidently premature gushing praise of their customer service now seems a false dawn.)

This spam blitz has occurred during the height of controversial bunfight de jour that is Spinvoxgate. It’s caused idle speculation about the sheer volume and density of information out there.

Are we heading towards a point of critical mass or seminal data rift? Is it becoming increasingly naïve to implicitly trust new consumer technologies, and their management of our data?

Or is this merely paranoia and a bit Daily Mail?

Less contentious is that as technology gets sexier, diversifies, converges and attracts more users, the need for effective and transparent regulation will become evermore critical.

Fears of regulatory duplication with Ofcom’s recent PRS Scope Review and PhonepayPlus’s consultation around their 12th Code Of Practice could evoke the riposte that there will always be a degree of duplication in large organisations. Ok, but public facing material which, by its very nature, is dynamic and open to industry consultation?

To these concerns I recently added a consumer misgiving. A spate of phantom phone calls from 01873742136 and 01970 801068 were instantly terminated upon my answering and didn’t accept returned calls. But may have reverse billed me for the pleasure of trying.

Where to go? There is no prominent direction or instruction about how to make such a simple complaint on either the Ofcom or PhonepayPlus site. If you look hard, there’s a low level link to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) as this is technically an Information Commissioner issue. Next steps from there aren’t simple, motivation slowly withers and dies.

How many bodies are there then? How many must consumers deal with? How many of them have the power to actually do anything?

The UK needs a regulatory tidy up of the kind being promised by David Cameron, the likely new incumbent of Number 10. It’s no easy one to fix of course, but his touted overhaul of Ofcom and address of consumer interests will be one to watch.

For the technology pie to continue feeding as many mouths as possible it’s critical for regulation to reflect the convergence of technology. An unfathomable number of regulatory quangos with slightly different remits doesn’t help the consumer, and arguably presents more loopholes than it tightens.

There will always be a cancerous pocket of chancers out to make a fast buck. Regulatory blur and infinitely swelling information fizzing across platforms won’t make their lives harder.


Moans in more detail

01873742136 and 01970 801068 have voice spammed me four times in five days.

One of the first relevant search hits was this unofficial spam reporting site, which revealed that I was not alone in my complaint and at least offered the satisfaction of instant reporting.

I had my hotmail address spoofed and messages sent to my contacts as if from me, appealing for them to sign-up to a website. Unfortunately my Father did, using his business email address, so is now potentially at risk.

The subject line was: “dont miss this!”
The body of the message said “dont miss this check out”


After originally praising their level of service, 3UK appears not to have fixed the SMS notifications I receive which incorrectly tell me I have reached the fair usage limit of my data allowance. My latest message came roughly three days into my new bill period, when my browsing sessions must have amounted to about five minutes.