Balloons, Broadband and Billions of Dollars: Connecting Sports and the Southern Hemisphere
$10 billion dollars from balloons. That's Google's Project Loon in a nutshell. Google are creating a business in the air that will revolutionise the way the Northern and Southern Hemispheres connect. Google's Sundar Pichai expresses it well: "[it] started about four years ago as an experimental idea. When you think about it, it sounds a bit crazy".
At the Mobile World Congress, Google announced its plan to bring wireless connectivity to the most remote parts of the world. Project Loon will achieve this with the delivery of LTE data speed through giant balloons that fly in the stratosphere. Simple. Global communication via balloons is a wonderful concept, but it sounds as if it belongs in utopian science fiction. It's not going to affect brands any time soon, right?
Well, Google have set their focus upon Project Loon to become one of its flagship projects. With successful tests in New Zealand, Australia and Brazil, Google will test connectivity across the entire Southern Hemisphere by the end of the year. Now is the time to prepare for the impact of a connected Southern Hemisphere in the digital arena. An increased fan base of millions, even billions, of connected fans will arise, and brands will need to be ready.
Let's take Chelsea FC as an example. As of 28 February, Chelsea boasted 41.5 million Facebook fans. The likes of Indonesia, Brazil and Thailand account for a sizeable 9.5 million - 22% - of their total fans. This is just covering the Top 10 countries hinting towards an even greater audience in the Southern Hemisphere. Chelsea are not a one-off case. The likes of Bayern Munich, LA Lakers, Moto GP all echo this trend, and have a Southern Hemisphere audience of at least 25%.
Now look at the potential from the perspective of a country (mostly) in the Southern Hemisphere, Indonesia. With a swelling population of 251.2 million, only 71.2 million have internet access. That's a penetration rate of just 26%. Yet despite this, the nation already populates many leading sports brands on Facebook. Research shows Indonesia ranks behind only the United States, India and Brazil for Facebook users - and it's growing rapidly. Statista have reported how they expect Indonesia to have just shy of 100m users by 2018. Armed with 22MB internet, Project Loon could transform Indonesia, and the Southern Hemisphere, into a digital force.
Yet Project Loon is not the only project attempting to become a global internet access provider. There are bigger and better options in the works. Facebook and Google are pioneering drones to provide unilateral internet access as well. Google's Project Titan, their secondary project, is a few years behind Loon. Acquired in April 2014, Titan are building drones that can stay aloft for long(er) periods of time and provide more precise coverage to areas. A connected world is emerging on the horizon, and it's time to get ready not just for the fans, but the money they bring.
Google's Vice President, Mike Cassidy, explained to Verge: "With 4.5 billion [people] without internet access, take 5 percent; you're talking 250 million people". If they each pay just $5 for their slice of internet, "you're going to be in a billion dollars a month in revenue, tens of billions of a year in revenue. So it's good business too". Sure, this is just Google's perspective, but for a brand, if you're first, you've got an almost 'white label' audience at your fingertips. There's an opportunity to reap commercial benefits from an audience ready to connect.
The focus upon Asia, North America and Europe will have to change. It's impossible to gauge the true impact of a digitally connected Southern Hemisphere, but it's fair to say it will be big. The ethos of blue sky thinking has never been more relevant.