Voice of America (VOA) has launched a new SMS news service that allows cell phone users to get up-to-date VOA news headlines and emergency messages through three of the country’s major mobile providers. The agreement was signed at a news conference in Abuja, Nigeria presented by VOA Director David Ensor and Osamede Umweni, CEO of the mobile content aggregator, 70th Precinct Limited. “SMS is one of the most popular forms of mobile communication in Nigeria,” Ensor said, “and VOA is one of the most popular international broadcasters in the country. By putting our Hausa language news updates out as SMS messages on mobile phones, we give our audience the news they want on a platform they like.”
According to Osamede Umweni, “The VOA service would be landmark one in the sense that it would be the first time a major news agency would deliver up to the minute news in Hausa language via the SMS format. The service would cater for over 21 million Hausa language listeners in Nigeria” The SMS headline service has been undergoing tests in Nigeria for the past month. The VOA regional and international headlines are now updated three times a day, seven days a week, and are available on mobile providers MTN, Airtel, and Etisalat. The Interactive Voice Response service (IVR) would also be launched in the next few weeks too. Here subscribers can listen to daily headline news on their mobile phone anywhere they are from a source that they can trust.
Stephen Ferri, the VOA Africa Division’s Senior Web Editor, says SMS is not only a popular way of communicating; it is one of the most reliable in an emergency. “When other communications systems break down, SMS will probably still work. We have seen this in other countries where our audience expanded sharply in a crisis, because SMS was the only way to get news.”
Speaking in the same vein, Rob Bole, Director of the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ Office of Digital Design and Innovation, who is traveling with the VOA director, called mobile “one of the most important new ways for international broadcasters to reach audiences.”
Bole is exploring ways to expand the use of mobile to reach African audiences across the range of platforms, from simple feature phones to high-bandwidth Internet-capable devices. In addition to mobile service, VOA broadcasts to Nigeria on radio, television and the Internet. Many affiliate stations carry VOA Hausa language programs. Research conducted for the BBG shows that one in three Hausa language speakers listen to VOA radio at least once a week.