When BlackBerry announced it would be releasing its popular BBM app for free on rival platforms like Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS, the question doing the rounds was: what does BlackBerry hope to gain? With users being able to download it for free, BBM was not meant to generate revenue through downloads. And the lack of in-app advertising meant that the other main revenue source when it comes to apps was also not available to BlackBerry. But it looks like BlackBerry knew what it was doing—rolling out BBM Channels, BlackBerry’s own social network, confirms that. Moulded along the lines of Twitter, the new social network will be built into the BBM service. This basically means that all BBM users—at around 80 million at last count—will automatically become users of BBM Channels once it rolls out fully. And this number is set to grow rapidly thanks to the BBM app being free—it saw 10 million downloads in the first 24 hours of its release on Android and iOS. What was considered a blunder on BlackBerry’s part may yet become the key factor behind its resurgence in popularity.
More important than BBM’s growing user-base is the potential for revenue generation that BBM Channels offers. Social network advertising is beginning to take hold, with Facebook bolstering its own advertising model and the response to Twitter’s IPO showing that investors are confident of future cash flows for the microblogging site. Now consider the fact that BlackBerry is also finalising deals with OEMs like Micromax, Spice and Zen so BBM comes preloaded on their phones across Africa, India, Indonesia, Latin America and the Middle East. What emerges is quite a comprehensive and well thought-out strategy—one completely in-sync with its ongoing shift away from hardware.