Disposable Income – the real story behind mobile advertising in India

Saw AdMob numbers and some of the analysis both pro and con after that. I have to be in VentureBeat’s camp – AdMob is onto something (at least in India).

Granted India figures #2 in Admob’s advertising geography with about 349 Million requests. But that’s part of the story.

Lets get some facts first, (some of this information is proprietary, not confidential from the carriers who I spoke with).

1. Total subscribers in India = ~240 Million, growing at  15% annual, most of the growth (over 60% of that is rural, not urban, which most carriers are claiming is “saturated”, not sure I buy that).

2. By Technology GSM providers have 66% market share, the rest are CDMA. Most of their data networks are still as ancient as the US carriers (GPRS anyone?) and hence slow.

3. The top carriers: Airtel, Vodafone (Essar/Hutch), BSNL (and MTNL) and Reliance. # of subscribers of data plan on the mobile is about 1% in GSM and less than 0.7% in CDMA – that totals to about 1/2 Million (about 1-2 million, had a typo). Less than 115,000 subscribers of Blackberry.

4. Dominant handset is Nokia. 90% handsets are purchased separately from the carrier hence there are no “subsidies” – This is important – why? The handsets listed by AdMob in the top handset list EACH cost over Rs. 7500 and most cost over Rs. 15000 or about $200 – $400. These can only be afforded by fewer than 0.5% of mobile subscribers or about 2 Million people.

5. The major metros are over 80% of “Internet traffic”. So which mobile sites get all the traffic – #1 is video (You tube & Porn), #2 is News (indiatimes, rediff), #3 is social networks (Okrut, Facebook), followed by services (jobs – naukri, etc.)

6. By Demographic: Given the price of handsets, data plan fees, propensity to have more time, the only market segment that’s even going on the Internet to view those Admob ads are: Urban professionals and College kids.

So why are marketers saying they are going to RUSH to mobile advertising & skip the PC? – Disposable Income growth.

If you can afford $100 for a phone in India, put up with poor Internet connection on your phone, handle the small form factor and still pull together 300+ Million views, you ought to have 2 things – time and money.

For many of these professionals and students the mobile is their entertainment, information source, their way to keep up with friends, etc. Most use it during commute – which tend to be long.

BTW, the other segment that’s possibly going to get on this bandwagon of the web is the Urban off-the-grid crowd, if only they can get their headsets off the Nokia mobile radio . Fat chance in the next 2-4 years is my prediction.