Christopher Schouten is VP of Broadband and Media 3.0 Strategy at Irdeto. Mr Schouten has held various positions in Marketing and Product Management; he is a specialist in broadband, digital TV and digital media technologies, especially related to content security and user experience. Prior to joining Irdeto, Mr Schouten held various positions in fixed and mobile telecommunications in the Netherlands and the United States. Christopher Schouten earned a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communications from the University of Iowa, where he graduated with honours.
Broadband access, wired and wireless alike, is the future of telecommunications. Universal service is no longer just a question of voice, but of broadband, which can handle both voice and data with equal aplomb. Consumer appetite for broadband communications, driven in large part by social networking and image sharing, is the driving force for user and infrastructure equipment innovation. Broadband also enables an enormous range of new services that are redefining everything from government services to social structures.
Pay-TV evolution Consumers demand services in the home and on-the-go, and operators understand the importance of embracing broadband technologies to deliver media to multiple platforms to satisfy them. We are witnessing the evolution of broadband, mobile and fixed alike, driven by consumer uptake of these technologies. This presents an important opportunity for more companies than ever to embrace Internet services and, by doing so, offer customers flexible content consumption by means of multiple devices, anytime, anywhere. Traditionally, Pay-TV operators have dominated the delivery of video content to consumers; however, the broadband evolution brought a wide variety of competitors to the playing field, such as consumer electronics manufacturers, content providers, ‘over the top’ Internet access and new media providers. These competitors are starting to crowd the market and offer new services such as flat rate video streaming on multiple mobile platforms, which threaten to replace the traditional broadcaster as the deliverer of content and replace the traditional television set with alternate platforms such as tablet PCs. Broadband powers these new services and competitors, so it’s no wonder the industry is questioning the role of the traditional operator. In order to compete, traditional broadcasters must truly modernise their services. As adoption rates of mobile broadband continue to rise, operators must focus on optimising content offerings for multiple platforms to deliver a true TV-anytime, convergent, mobile experience. Content on multiple platforms In order to differentiate their offering, operators must deliver an experience unique to their brand that will simultaneously monetise their digital assets, generate more value for their subscribers and cement loyalty through innovation and flexibility. Consumers are progressively demanding a-la-carte offerings that enable them to choose where, when and how they consume content. With the proliferation of new devices, such as the Apple iPad, consumers expect content they can download on one device, share with another, and access on the move. The operator’s future business models must address this demand for an individualised, targeted, ‘Media 3.0 experience’ and offer the delivery and distribution of content across multiple platforms. Taking advantage of broadband, its increasing availability on mobile devices and the services it is now able to deliver, will be critical for operators looking to offer services tailored to the individual. We have already seen operators come to the market using broadband to power a ‘three screen strategy’ that aims to deliver content to mobile, PC and television. However, such linear terms should not apply to content delivery as a focus on just three screens limits content consumption. Brand ubiquity and content availability on any screen should be the goal. Broadband advances have meant that operators can use diverse business models for delivering content across multiple platforms. Different markets will have different tolerances for how much, if anything, is charged for these services. In many cases these services, initially or over time, will be offered at no additional cost in order to lock in subscriber loyalty, especially that of premium subscribers. This means that these services must be offered in the most cost-effective way, via a seamless end-to-end workflow for managing, securing and monetising content offered on any device. Personalised and tailored content Content is becoming a commodity. Consumers can access content they want, whenever they want, legitimately or illegitimately. Delivering a wide variety of content across many channels offers the consumer choice; however there are flaws in this model. An ‘all you can eat’ content package renders choice a valuable asset only if that choice is personalised to the individual and is built on the foundation of compelling premium entertainment. The availability of content the consumer really wants to access is a key differentiator. An example of this is French satellite operator, CanalSat, which identified a gap in the market -consumer demand for US-generated content. Canal + is the only operator in the region to offer this service. They worked with US-based content providers and obtained the rights to make content originating in the US available shortly after its US premier, over a hybrid set-top box using IP. Previously, customers were only able to access this content through illegal means and piracy, or had to wait for up to a year for the content to appear on French broadcast channels. Correctly implemented, a tailored, personalised, approach to content delivery helps to reduce customer churn - the risk that subscribers will look to competitors to find the content they want is greatly reduced. By powering these on-demand content platforms, broadband also enables the operator to gather far more detailed intelligence about consumer behaviour. By providing a single account, login and bill, a smart operator can develop a consolidated view of its customers and their preferences. Feeding this intelligence back into content buying, programming and marketing decisions will make it possible to continuously improve user experience and the relevance of content to individual customers. Social platforms and personalised content The rise of online social networking platforms will progressively become a key influence in helping businesses and operators to tailor recommendations to individuals, spot the latest content trends and determine the significant market values that point to who is watching what, and where. Social platforms such as Facebook feature interactive capabilities that allow consumers to share feedback and discuss content in real time. For example, the Facebook ‘like’ button not only allows consumers to bookmark their content preferences on their own social profile but also enables service providers and operators to integrate this function into their website and thereby gain important marketing insight as to consumer attitudes and tastes. If operators use this information cleverly, they can tailor future media recommendations to the consumer’s individual content preferences. More importantly, consumers can become grassroots evangelists for the brand’s content. As the ‘like’ button draws attention to recommendation-driven content, this word-of-mouth marketing creates a natural ‘buzz’, adds a layer of credibility to the brand’s name and content and drives click-through traffic to the content provider’s website and content. MultiChoice Africa realised exponential growth of direct click-through to its website after integrating the Facebook ‘like’ button to content. Increased broadband speeds and advances in broadband technology have also helped give rise to the social experience of social TV. Social TV, or recommendation TV, is an emerging technology that allows the consumer to discuss content opinions and thoughts with social groups based on shared interests rather than proximity. New Internet content platforms such as YouTube, iTunes, Amazon Unbox, Hulu, Netflix, LoveFilm and others that enable the consumer to view content online mean that traditional television providers need to consider new models for interaction and social services based on their platforms in order to compete in the marketplace. Where next? In the past, the television was a social medium that people viewed and shared together. For the most part, technological advances in broadband have served to drive a wedge between television and its function as a social centre. Decreasing costs of mobile devices such as laptops, tablets and smartphones and the increasing adoption of mobile broadband mean that the viewing experience has become a highly personalised, individual experience. Couple this with the fact that information can travel anywhere, anytime, at great speed and in so many different ways, and the challenges and opportunities for operators to succeed in such a fast-paced marketplace are obvious. Operators must constantly look for innovative ways to deliver information and content that is not only entertaining, but informative. To survive in this crowded market, they need to build a truly flexible platform that can give the consumer a highly tailored experience on multiple platforms. Perhaps by combining this with social networking technology, operators can succeed in leveraging broadband networks to return television consumption to the social medium it once was, only in a slightly different way.