Mobile messaging app Tango is boosting its multimedia presence and potential to make money after it introduced content-rich ‘channels’ to its iOS and Android apps.

Channels are basically portals for brands to post messages or multimedia content to Tango users, who can follow specific channels if they want the content to appear in their newsfeed, and also recommend them to their friends.

An update adding the feature actually rolled out last week, but now Tango has fleshed out the six main channel categories — entertainment, news, sport, lifestyle, humor and music — with content from Spotify, AOL, Dailymotion and other launch partners.

The idea behind channels — which is similar to the feature of the same name in BBM — is to keep users inside the app and more engaged with their friends on the service.

Tango was already reminiscent of Asian messaging apps with its gaming platform and personal newsfeed, and adding brands to the mix was inspired by the likes of Line, WeChat and Kakao Talk, Tango CTO Eric Setton told TNW in an interview last week.

“We’re turning Tango into something that’s much larger than a utilitarian messaging app,” Setton said. “Channels will broaden our scope, and allow new way to discover great content from top content owners.”

It isn’t just about users, of course. Setton believes Tango channels will give brands a much-needed mechanism to reach its 200 million registered users (70 million of whom are active on the service each month), build engagement and drive referrals and revenue from mobile.

“It’s encouraging to see what others have been doing over the Pacific, for example with K-Pop in Korea using Kakao Talk. It’s a very powerful distribution network for content owners and great for members who enjoy a better experience,” Setton said.

Tango is charging content owners to run channels, as is standard in Asia, and Setton says that native ads — which Tango launched last year — will also feature inside them.

tango channels 730x346 Tango brings content channels to its chat app, but isnt planning payments or commerce yet

Despite acknowledging Asia as its inspiration, channels will initially go live in the US — where a third of Tango’s users reside — but there are plans to roll them out to users in the rest of the world “later”. Setton says the company is considering adding content in native languages once a wider rollout is in progress.

E-commerce and messaging apps are likely to get a lot more airtime in the US after Facebook poached PayPal chairman David Marcus to run its messaging business. Setton believes the hiring is a “tacit admission that Asian messaging apps have cracked the code when it comes to monetization, time spent in app, and mobile commerce.”

What about Tango? It was boosted when Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba led its most recent $280 million funding round, and it is already influenced by the East — why not Asia-fy even further with Alibaba-powered commerce or payments?

Setton admits that, with Alibaba as an investor, it would make sense and it is “something that we think about a lot”, but he says there is nothing specific to reveal at this point.

“It’s a competitive space and we need to differentiate ourselves,” he adds. “Line and WeChat are seeking new tricks to enter the US market, but we are here already and catering to our Western audience — that’s why we are bringing content that can’t be found in other messaging apps.”

That said, we can expect the company to push into China and possibly other parts of Asia at some point. Tango CEO Uri Raz told us earlier this year that there are plans to position the messaging app as a ‘window into the West’ for China.

➤ Tango for iOS | Android