Shifting from messenger service to smart portal
Line Corporation last week announced its latest five-year mission, to shift from being only a messenger-service provider to being a smart portal to help close the distance between people and information and services.
Chief executive officer Takeshi Idezawa said Line’s goal was to become an entity that is as comfortable to be with as the family and friends that people have, providing an environment where anyone’s day may literally begin and end with the service.
“Line’s ‘smart portal’ started from Japan, but Line in Japan, Thailand and Taiwan will together move towards our mission,” he said.
Line is set to go beyond its current principal businesses including games, stickers, advertising, and offline character enterprises to provide a payment platform (the Line Pay service) and mobile networks under the Line Mobile service.
Line Pay and Line Mobile are set to be new sources of revenue for Line. Line Pay is proposing new systems for online and offline payments via smartphones and a new point system, while Line Mobile provides a smartphone communication infrastructure addressing the needs of individual users.
Line Pay aims to expand the capability of mobile money transfers through new deposit and payment partnerships. The new services include Line Pay Card, a prepaid card allowing conventional purchases at the cash register, and Line Points, a point system that rewards users for using various Line services.
The idea is to reduce the inconveniences of cash transactions through an accessible, free service, in hopes of closing the distance between sellers and customers. Line hopes to become a leader in the financial-technology industry as the world moves increasingly towards cashless modes of sale.
Line says its Pay Cards offer users a convenient and rewarding way of making purchases online as well as at physical retailers.
The existing Line Free Coins reward programme will be incorporated into Line Points, allowing users also to earn points from within the main Line app.
Line Mobile is a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service that aims to connect people and people, as well as people and content.
According to data published by Nikkei BP Consulting, smartphone penetration in Japan stood at 49.7 per cent in 2015, indicating that more than half of the Japanese population still does not use a smartphone. Thus, Line has decided to improve mobile infrastructure as an MVNO in partnership with DoCoMo to provide fourth-generation and LTE (Long-Term Evolution) mobile service.
Ad platform enhanced
Line also announced it was enhancing its business platform by expanding the functionality of its ad-distribution platform for more timely and relevant matching between users and businesses.
Line is opening up its business platform as part of a strategy to bring users, companies, and services, closer together, thereby developing a better relationship among all parties. This, it hopes, will help shape a future in which users can use Line and other companies’ services even more conveniently, easily, and enjoyably.
It has introduced the Official Web App service that enables partner companies to link their Web services with Line accounts, making these accounts a channel to gain new users, redirect users to perform specific actions, and increase repeaters seamlessly within the Line app.
Users, on the other hand, enjoy easy and quick access to various services within the Line app, without having to install other apps or sign up for other services.
Line also released three features to make existing Line accounts more convenient, namely Reward Cards, Coupon Book, and Commerce.
Line will be opening up its platform to enable external partner companies to develop plug-ins to incorporate additional functionality into official Line accounts, much as Reward Cards, Coupon Book and Commerce do.
Line Reward Cards is a feature that replaces point and stamp cards that take up space and tend to be left behind at home and expire before they are filled up. Coupon Book allows users to manage coupons issued by various companies and stores within the Line app.
Commerce is a new online store feature that will be added to Line@ accounts with no monthly or system usage fees and only a service charge of 4.98 per cent for sales made. As users are not required to log in or create accounts to make purchases, a higher purchase rate than conventional e-commerce websites can be anticipated.
Account owners can also add products only available to Line@ friends, providing opportunity and incentive for users to add their Line@ accounts as friends.
Line’s advertisement-distribution platform will be expanded beyond its previous one-way mass delivery systems appropriate for only larger businesses, to deliver more relevant and personal advertisements to suit any business size, the company says.
Four principal businesses
Idezawa also reviewed Line’s four existing principal businesses – stickers, games, advertising, and character enterprises.
He claimed that Line is the world’s leading service in sticker-based communication. Currently, more than 2.4 billion stickers are sent and received per day.
Line’s gross sales from the sticker business last year were more than 25.3 billion yen (Bt7.8 billion). To continue increasing revenue from the sticker business, Line has announced the Pop-Up Sticker, scheduled for release midyear.
It also launched the “Creators’ Stickers for Business” programme, scheduled for release later this year, in which small and medium-sized businesses will be able to purchase the right to distribute promotional stickers as rewards for service purchases or related incentives via the Line Creators Market platform.
Meanwhile, the game business is also set to grow this year. As of January, there had been more than 640 million downloads with over 13 million monthly active users.
Line’s advertising business includes more than 2,680 sponsored sticker sets, more than 2,685 official accounts, and more than 8,260 free coin promotions, Idezawa said. There are around 1 million Line@ accounts in Indonesia, 475,497 in Thailand, and 385,832 in Taiwan.
Idezawa said Line’s character enterprise was also growing. Line has 44 stores in 11 counties. In China, it has six pop-up stores and one permanent store (store and cafe) in Shanghai. It plans to open there more stores in China in the first half of this year.
To continue growing its character enterprise, Line launched a new character called Choco, Brown’s little sister, targeted at younger groups.
Line chat app enhanced
For its main chat app, Line has also launched new features including Line Group Call, Line News, and Line Live.
Line News monthly active users have has increased from 3 million in July 2013 to 6 million in April 2014, 12 million in May 2015, and 22 million in December 2015. To enhance Line News, it introduced a powered-up recommendation engine called “For You” to personalise news for Line users. It plans to launch ‘Timeline” next month.
“We want to become the No 1 news service for smartphones,” Idezawa said.
The concept of Line Live is always to be in the moment. Currently, around 743 programmes are broadcast.
Live TV, released in October 2014, had around 11 million monthly active users as of last month.
Line has launched a feature allowing Line users to choose backdrop music from the 15 million songs available on Line Music.
Line Thailand follows the “smart portal and closing the distance” direction, said managing director Ariya Banomyong.
Previously, Line Thailand announced its “Line beyond chat” strategy with the aim to transform itself from a chat app serving some 33 million users in Thailand to offer new services across sectors of consumers and businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises.
In the business segment, he said, Line identifies itself as a platform closing the loop between business and users, while it will promote Line@ in order to encourage SMEs in Thailand to have an affordable digital-marketing tool to enhance their performance.
Of the total of around 2.8 million SMEs in the country, only about 500,000 are online, while 2 million are small office and home office (SOHO) users and 42 per cent are retailers.
Many find digital technology complicated, so Line@ will address this, he said.
Currently, Line Thailand’s revenue comes from games, the business-to-business unit (official accounts and official stickers), content including Line TV and paid stickers, followed by its Gift Shop and Line Pay.
Currently, Line has more than 215 million monthly active users worldwide. It reported 120.7 billion yen in revenue last year, up from 86.4 billion yen in 2014, 39.6 billion yen in 2013, and 6.4 billion yen in 2012.