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Mobile content retailer PlayPhone strikes deal with Billing Revolution

Using Seattle-based Billing Revolution’s single-click technology, PlayPhone will be able to offer its customers yet another option to pay for ringtones, games, videos, wallpapers and widgets bought from the service. All purchases are backed by the customer’s credit card, which is most useful when dealing with prepaid mobile subscribers not signed onto wireless carrier contracts.

San Jose, CA-based PlayPhone’s audio, video and gaming catalog includes content from Disney, Vivendi, Sony BMG, Sony Pictures Entertainment EMI, Walmart, BET Networks, Cartoon Network, Best Buy, Real Networks, iPlay and ABC Television. Excerpted here is what PlayPhone vice president of carrier relations Jim Conti and Billing Revolution senior vice president of business development Michael Dulong had to say about the deal that they claim is the first off-portal billing and payment service to carriers.

What’s the goal of the deal?
Jim Conti:To provide the end user the options for payment, as we provide them with several venues to purchase mobile content.

Users can purchase mobile content on their carrier deck as well as off-deck with portals like and other major destinations sites like Walmart Mobile and BET Mobile, all powered by PlayPhone.So this provides the option for how they would like to pay for the content as well.

Michael Dulong: The goal of the partnership initially is to address rebilling issues with prepaid subscribers that have opted in for mobile subscription services and lack the required credits for the recurring charge after the first month of the subscription being active.

The long range goal is to improve the user experience end to end so that when users opt in for subscription services, credit-card-based payments are offered as an option in addition to existing operator billing options in place today.

Who’s being targeted?
Mr. Conti: Carriers with a high percentage of prepaid subscribers, to allow for a more optimized rebilling event, as well as smaller carriers with limited billing infrastructure — to provide this carrier with a competitive mobile content offering to monetize mobile content.

In addition, with all of the compliance issues now in the space, as well as lawsuits for deceptive billing practices, this solution provides the carrier with a secure and reliable option, as well as the opportunity to remove themselves from the liability associated to carrier billing.

We would also look to provide a unified mobile payment to consolidate digital and hard goods in the same in the transaction.

For example, buy the DVD and get the ringtone or wallpaper in the same transaction, all from your mobile phone.

What’s the strategy behind the partnership? Why is PlayPhone using Billing Revolution’s credit card technology?
Mr. Conti: PlayPhone researched the mobile payment industry, and Billing Revolution was one of the first providers to allow for mobile content billing.

Their system does not require any major infrastructure investments or deployments, and can be branded to fit the particular carrier’s requirements.

We also needed to ensure full security, and Billing Revolution provided this as well.

How does this work?
Mr. Dulong: Billing Revolution’s technology is easily integrated into PlayPhone and the operator infrastructure, allowing PlayPhone to authenticate users prior to the delivery of content.

For the end user, a secure mobile web session is established. The end user is taken to a secure form where the user provides credit card number, expiry and phone number.

Once completing the secure form during the first purchase, the user is single-click-enabled to buy products and services by just clicking the “Buy now” button.

Billing Revolution processes the charge. Upon the charge being approved, Billing Revolution then redirects the user to the content download URL and sends the user a SMS receipt. The SMS receipt also includes the download URL.

On the PlayPhone side, Billing Revolution notifies PlayPhone of the subscription purchase and the status of the credit card transaction. This way, PlayPhone confirms that the user is a valid subscriber prior to delivery of the content.

Billing Revolution’s unique IP include a device access license, which is leveraged to provide the user access to goods and services without having to log in with a user name and password.

How will PlayPhone promote this?
Mr. Conti: It is being shown to all carriers, as this is a hot topic right now and promoted as a secondary or “waterfall” option for carriers.

What is the revenue model for Billing Revolution?
Mr. Dulong: Billing Revolution’s revenue model is entirely transactional.

Our end-to-end solution is offered for 3.5 percent — inclusive of all credit card fees — plus 50 cents per transaction.

In cases where our client is the merchant of record, we charge 50 cents per transaction and the client negotiates credit card fees with their merchant bank.

What other content categories can use this technology?
Mr. Dulong: Any merchant can leverage Billing Revolution’s technology. Digital goods, virtual goods, physical goods are all fully supported.

Billing Revolution’s APIs allow for a seamless integration with POS and inventory management systems as well as content delivery and DRM platforms leveraged by digital goods providers.

How can other retailers use this technology?
Mr. Dulong: Retailers can leverage Billing Revolution’s technology to extend the purchase experience to the mobile phone.

For example, L.L. Bean could extend its online and catalog business to mobile, allowing shoppers to order products from a device from anywhere.

Billing Revolution’s single-click technology would provide L.L. Bean shoppers with secure, easy checkout similar to the online ordering process without a login or password requirement.

By pre-populating the credit card and shipping information, end users enjoy an exceptional customer experience consistent with L.L. Bean’s approach across other marketing channels.

Additionally, Billing Revolution’s technology could be leveraged to provide a mobile affinity program whereby retailers could offer mobile-exclusive offers via SMS where affinity group members could action the offer link embedded in the SMS alert and buy the product with single click ease.

Retailers can also offer their shoppers the ability to opt for store pick up or have the product shipped to their preferred shipping address.

What challenge is Billing Revolution’s solution meant to address?
Mr. Conti: The biggest challenge is usually the infrastructure or integration requirements to provide the billing, and Billing Revolution provides a simple and easy solution, with no investment required to deploy.

In addition, in a subscription model, it is imperative to be able to re-bill the consumer monthly, and if they are prepaid, then the billing is a bit more complicated as you do not know when that subscriber might top-up to have the money in the account to allow for the mobile billing event.

In this scenario, once the credit card is on file, it is simply a matter of rebilling to the card, which is part of Billing Revolution’s core offering.

Where does this type of service leave the carrier?
Mr. Dulong: Billing Revolution’s service generates new revenue by successfully rebilling subscribers with insufficient pre-paid credits.

Additionally, operators enjoy increased data revenues as Billing Revolution’s service requires a mobile Web connection for every check out.

By leveraging Billing Revolution, operators can offer their subscribers the ability to make secure purchases of any product or service at any price point.

Currently, the mobile operators in the U.S. support digital purchases up to a maximum purchase price of $25.

Billing Revolution’s service dramatically expands the purchase opportunities of end users. Now they can buy any product they wish, and the operators benefit from increased data revenues on every purchase.

Billing Revolution’s service handles the heavy lifting involved in billing for services that are not minutes- or data-related.

Mobile consumers do not respond well to charges on their cell phone bill that are not related to minutes or data services. Consumers are comfortable with seeing such charges appear on their credit card statement.

Mr. Conti: In today’s model, the carrier controls the billing event, and the content providers pay a percentage to allow for this method of billing.

It works well if the subscriber is typically a postpaid account in good standing. If they are prepaid, then again it is more complicated to know when to re-bill that subscriber for the monthly subscription.

In this case, alternate billing might provide the ability to recover some of the lost revenue from the subscription service and provide the customer an option for payment.

The carrier would still be compensated for the transaction, and all of the parties would participate in the enhanced user experience, as well as the revenue stream.

In addition, with all of the compliance issues associated to the affiliate marketing channels, alternate billing could provide a safeguard to the carrier billing [and] minimize risk and liability by providing a secure method of payment without the ability to put erroneous charges on the consumer phone bill.

It could not only reduce the liability, but could reduce the number of care calls, and overall enhance the end-user experience for purchasing off-portal mobile content.