Research In Motion’s last earnings report beat the street, which prompted their stock to shoot up to $15.50 in after hours on December 20th. However, that all changed when RIM CEO Thorsten Heins announced that users will no longer be required to purchase a special BlackBerry plan.
This special BlackBerry plan, known as BIS, accounts for roughly 40% of RIM’s service revenue. In total, BIS and BES service revenue account for 90% margins. Anything lost will certainly hurt RIMs bottom-line.
An estimated $2.4 billion per year is at risk of loss from BIS alone. This revenue is crucial for the success of RIM, but the company understands it can no longer require service fees from customers for an outdated system.
BlackBerry competitors such as Google, Apple, and Nokia do not require users to have a special plan in order to use their devices. This has prompted Seeking Alpha to devise 6 ways RIM can recoup any lost service revenue:
(1) Apps, Music, and Movies in BlackBerry World
Under the razor/razor blades model, a popular mobile platform can drive digital content sales in the form of apps, music, and movies. One great example is Apple’s (APPL) iTunes store which now drives $12 billion of sales a year, and it is one business model that Amazon (AMZN) is trying to copy by selling the Kindle Fire tablets at a loss.
RIM’s BlackBerry World is already a popular place for apps for BlackBerry users, and with the announcement of adding music and video, BlackBerry World is setting up to make a noticeable impact on RIM’s revenue when BB10 becomes popular.
(2) Support for iOS/Android in Enterprise
Under BlackBerry Mobile Fusion (or later, “BES 10″), companies are able to securely manage their mobile assets from different manufacturers under a single solution. Currently, RIM’s server supports the management of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android, and RIM has stated that it will consider adding support for the Microsoft Windows Phone if it becomes popular.
Similar to existing BlackBerry users under corporate BES, companies under this model pay RIM a per-user subscription fee regardless of mobile OS. As mobile devices from various vendors penetrate into more companies and into deeper layers of employees, this will prove to be another growth opportunity for RIM’s MDM solution – world renown for its manageability and security.
(3) BBM Money
RIM recently launched BBM Money in Indonesia, a peer-to-peer funds transfer solution based on the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) platform. It has potential to turn into a significant revenue stream once this service becomes available in more places in the world.
(4) NFC Payments via RIM’s Secure Element Manager (SEM)
Approaching commerce from another angle, RIM developed a proprietary solution for securely managing identities for NFC payments. This solution is already available in Canada from CIBC and Rogers, and it has also recently been approved for use by VISA. The mobile payment industry is still in its infancy and RIM is situated at its forefront.
(5) OS Licensing
BlackBerry 10’s underlying RTOS (real-time operating system), QNX, is already being licensed within various vertical markets, including nuclear power plants, network switches, industrial machinery and about 60% of our cars. From here, RIM has a repository of experience and expertise on how to make a business model out of OS licensing.
In terms of the new BlackBerry 10 platform, RIM is building the first line-up of hardware themselves as “aspiration models.” RIM hinted in the past that once the BB10 platform has proven itself, it may be open to licensing it at a fair price.
And licensing will not be limited to smartphones. As BlackBerry invades various other verticals such as PC, automotive, home appliances, medical devices and other M2M opportunities, we do not expect RIM to build all of the hardware themselves, which means licensing may be a big part of RIM’s revenue in the future.
(6) Cross-platform BBM
There have been rumors about RIM creating a version of BBM for Android and iOS at various times in the past. It may make sense to do that at some point, but RIM isn’t about to give away its crown jewel for nothing. Will there be a subscription model? Or may be an ad-supported version of BBM for other platforms (while the BB10 version remains ad-free)?
Regardless of how it plays out, it’s no secret that monetization of BBM will be a big part of RIM’s master plan.
The above initiatives are some of the more obvious paths RIM can take to replace, or even grow, its service revenue. There are probably other less obvious ways that we haven’t thought of yet, but one thing is for sure – if BB10 gets the users, the money will follow.
Once again, everything is riding on a successful launch of BB10. This whole discussion is irrelevant otherwise because RIM is still collecting service fees on the old BB7 devices, albeit from a declining user base.
Ironically, this begs the question: Given how dramatically upset the investors were when they heard about the uncertainty around BB10’s service revenue, does it mean the market is already expecting a successful BB10 launch that warrants this discussion in the first place? All will be revealed in a few more days.