Operator MTN South Africa is ending its offer of zero-rated data for Twitter, saying that it is no longer feasible because of the growing use of video on the messaging platform. MTN also announced changes to its WhatsApp and Twitter bundles, with more data to become available beginning in October.
MTN began to offer free Twitter data in May 2014, as a 90-day promotion, and extended the offer over the years. The operator said it was necessary to end the offer as of 25 September 2018 due to the cost and the demand it places on the network. In August, the number of free Twitter users on MTN’s network reached 13 million, using 1.9 petabytes of data.
At the same time, MTN also announced changes to its WhatsApp and Twitter bundles, effective 1 October. The weekly WhatsApp bundle increases from 100 MB for ZAR 5.00 (US $0.35) to 250 MB for ZAR 10.00 (US $0.70). The daily offer increases from ZAR 1.00 (US $0.07) to ZAR 2.00 (US $0.14) and from 20 MB to 50 MB. MTN’s Twitter bundles now come with 100 MB for ZAR 5.00, rather than 20 MB for ZAR 1.00, and the weekly rate will change from 100 MB for ZAR 5.00 to 500 MB for ZAR 20.00 (US $1.40).
Mobile operators’ promotions often go from temporary to long-term, acquiring the feeling of permanence. While they are initially advertised as short-term, they tend to be extended because of their ongoing efficacy in bringing in new subscribers, and because existing subscribers come to expect that the services will be continued at the same price. And when the costs to the operator are small or vanishingly small, it is no problem for that operator to continue the “promotion” package indefinitely.
However, if the costs change due to external factors, it becomes necessary for the operator to re-evaluate whether it still makes good business sense to maintain the promotion. In the case of MTN South Africa, it is clear that when the nature of the use of the application changed, the cost to the operator increased. When the promotion was first offered, Twitter was used mainly for text content; over time, more and more data-consuming video content came to be posted on it, to the point where it was not only costing the operator in terms of data not charged for, but actually overburdening the network. Almost 2 petabytes of data is indeed a huge number. Under these circumstances, the operator could no longer afford to keep the zero-rating of Twitter data going, and therefore terminated the promotion.
While Twitter-intensive customers may be unhappy about this change, there are reasons to believe that by finally ending the promotion, MTN may be activating one of the main purposes of data-oriented promotions, that is, to grow the data-consumption habits of subscribers by offering the data free, and then charging for it. After more than four years of ever-increasing data use over Twitter on its network, MTN may be able to realize a return on that investment.
And, of course, it is still offering its subscribers deals on Twitter, as well as on WhatsApp, by way of discrete packages in two tiers, daily and weekly. The WhatsApp deals are slightly more generous, in terms of economies of scale, which makes sense in light of the fact that the OTT messaging service is likely less heavily used for video than Twitter is.