By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Helio, the EarthLink-SK Telecom joint venture, launched its youth-oriented but pricey brand of cellular service through an unusual and diverse mix of sales outlets frequently shopped by its 18- to 32-year-old target customers.
The channels include direct sales, music and video software chains, and campus bookstores. "We're fishing where the fish are," said Helio executive VP Ali Zanjani.
Other sales channels include authorized agents, master agents and regional electronics chain Fry's Electronics.
Almost 1,000 retail locations will offer Helio's mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service by the end of May, with more than 3,000 outlets planned by the end of the year. They'll likely include additional regional CE chains and national CE chains, the company said.
The video and music chains carrying the product at launch FYE, Sam Goody, Wherehouse, Strawberries, Coconuts and Tower Records. Helio will also be available at more than 100 college and university campus bookstores, such authorized agents including Wireless Giant and Wireless Toyz, and key master agents such as ERC, Horus, ING Wireless, Interactive Wireless Services, InTouch America, Top Notch Communications, Top Up Solutions and WDI Wireless.
The master agents will target existing wireless-specialty store accounts “that attract the young and young at heart,” Zanjani said. The master agents have also been encouraged to seek out nontraditional retailers that fit the customer profile, he added.
Likewise, Helio set up shop in independent, trendy clothing stores where college kids shop, not so much to generate sales but as part of a viral marketing campaign to create a buzz within the target customer, Zanjani said.
The Helio customer is not only young, Zanjani said, but apt to spend a lot of money on such things as clothes and cellular, he said. These consumers spend $200 on jeans, $125 on sneakers and “a lot” on cellular. These consumers, added Helio CEO Sky Dayton, “have their mobile device at the center of their universe.”
For these customers, the $250 and $275 price tags on Helio's two launch phones are in their sweet spot, as are the three main service plans at $85, $100 and $135/month. Even at those prices, “ours are significantly more price advantaged” than other carriers' similarly equipped phones and service plans, based on the target customer's purchase and usage habits, Zanjani contended.
Each post-paid plan, for example, entitles users to unlimited use of streaming video, multimedia messaging, Web browsing and MySpace and Yahoo! services. Music-video downloads cost $2.49 each. Anytime voice minutes included in the plans are 1,000, 1,500 and 2,500, respectively.
Subscribers can also choose an a la carte plan that includes 500 anytime minutes for $40/month and pay-as-you-use multimedia services.
Helio service also offers multiple features not offered by other carriers, including MySpace, the ability to send video, picture and text messaging to multiple friends at one time, and support for video messages up to 1MB compared to other carriers' 300KB limit. Subscribers can also attach up to three pictures to one message, creating a slide show and broadcast the slide show to up to five friends at one time.
With MySpace on Helio, users can view profiles and photos of MySpace participants, read and write blogs on the go, send messages to profiled users, read and write MySpace mail and post photos to MySpace directly from the phone.
The company's two launch phones, both 800/1,900MHz CDMA 1x EV-DO phones, operate on the Sprint network. Helio promotes the $275 Pantech-supplied Hero and $250 VK Mobile-made Kickflip as “personal entertainment centers” whose feature pack would cost $350 to $400 when sold by other carriers. Both phones feature 2-megapixel camera/video camera; 70MB embedded memory; TransFlash memory-card slot; MP3 playback; MPEG-4/H.264 video playback; stereo speakers; and QVGA, 2-inch by 2-inch, 262K color LCD display.
Other service features available through the phones include Helio On Top, which lets subscribers program live content feeds sent directly to their idle screen. Subscribers can personalize their live feeds by selecting from such sources as Fandango, FOX Sports, IGN, MTV News, MySpace, POPSUGAR, Surfline, The Onion and Yahoo! Helio's mobile Internet service offers various Yahoo! services.
In addition to downloadable 2D, 3D and multiplayer games, Helio's game portal allows access to independent game ratings and reviews, animated previews of downloadable games, priced at a flat $5.99 to buy or rent for 99 cents a week.
Helio also lets users share purchased content. A gifting feature lets subscribers purchase a music video, game or personalized content directly from their handset and deliver it over the air to another Helio subscriber. The video streaming and download service features hundreds of music videos for download and streaming video clips from a variety of online outlets.
This TWICE webinar, hosted by senior editor Alan Wolf, will take a look at what may be the hottest CE products at retail that will be sold during the all-important fourth quarter. Top technologies, market strategies and industry trends will be discussed with industry analysts and executives.