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10 May 2018

Complacent? Nah!! Just optimistic that telco TV will win out

TV Connect is back at Olympia and the feeling at the show was that while it has not recovered its old panache quite yet, it will survive to next year. In fact one of the organizers said we can quote him on it, so we are.

Strange how history repeats itself, as we told the very first organizer before he sold it to the current owners, you need panel chairmen who ask tough questions, and none were on show. Last time we offered our analysts to run the Q&A and were taken up on it, we doubt that will happen next year.

One panel we attended was run by Jon Watts, director at strategy consultants MTM, someone we are clear understands the issues, and the panel was peppered with key players from European Telcos – Anette Schafer, the Deutsche Telekom VP in charge of TV outside of Germany; Michael Rizzo, Head of IPTV Solutions at BT TV; Nikola Francetic, Head of Content and Media at Telekom Austria; and Luca Oteri, Head of Video Partnerships at Telecom Italia. The surprise addition to the party was Bill Gash, VP of BSS/OSS player CSG International.

The kick off was a discussion about set tops or not set tops, and everyone agreed set tops would be around forever, they might go away someday but would be here for quite a time, and that was about the content of the entire panel which lasted some 40 minutes. Never has Faultline seen a more complacent bunch. And Watts made no attempt to provoke them into defense of their positions or to justify themselves. He is perhaps too long relying on them for revenue and afraid to rock the boat. He did ask would that change when they introduced their own SVoDs, and mostly the mumbled reply was “probably not”.

The stand out contributor was Gash, waxing lyrical about iFlix, the Malaysian SVoD service, who had turned the SVoD world upside down and picked up 6.5 million OTT subscribers across Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia by partnering with local MNOs; and Gash went on to say the telcos in Europe were culturally held back by their slow legacy culture. He also said that telcos were not so adept at competing or creating content or new ideas. But no-one was going to be baited by a mere supplier and without someone being downright rude about the achievements of the panel, nothing much was going to be said. Afterwards he shook his head and said to Faultline, “I tried, but I couldn’t get them going.” TV Connect take note, invite him back, and some independent analysts to run things.

Honestly everyone wanted to hear from Schafer about why Deutsche Telekom had completely failed to get a serious OTT service launched outside Germany or why the Huawei system had attracted so few within Germany; and from BT why it had gained almost no subscribers in the past few quarters and could that be anything to do with its disastrous customer care and ruinously bad set top middleware, which crashes on average twice a day (we could ask Oregan Networks about that too); or how come they had all had to partner with Netflix and others because they lacked any kind of original idea between them, or why Telecom Italia even after partnering with Netflix and adopting Android TV, still has a tiny market share when measured against the impressive Sky Italia and the less than impressive Mediaset Premium? Or why Austria’s A1 TV remains in the dark ages and why not one of these telcos has a genuine new UI, or a phone on-ramp, like Swisscom has introduced with its TV Air.

They are hardly going to get away from the set top if they think about walled gardens, at the same time as including Netflix, at the same time as ignoring Mobile First TV – the idea of selling to each person separately with the identity of the phone or an individual as a customer, not a home.

Mostly they talked about convergent offers and bundles, but others at the show said, “At telcos, TV just goes together with the fixed line, that’s legacy, and it’s why the cellular side of the business wants nothing to do with the TV side of the business.” So fix it!!

Bundling TV with a broadband line, was one great suggestion from Telecom Italia, something the French operators have done for ten years, and it works. Most of them talked about doing different things in different territories, because ARPU was different and content partners had to be different. They all wanted to be “aggregators” but some said OTT had not made a big impact in some territories, especially Central and Eastern Europe. Perhaps not with conventional pay TV suppliers, but it is rife.

Instead of opening questions to the eager audience that would eat this lot alive, asking things like what’s going to happen to you all when Vodafone puts a TV service across its German cellular footprint; or when the Disney Netflix assailant comes to battle it out with Netflix on European turf, or how were they going to manage an SVoD with the new European directive to offer at least 30% of the content from Europe? There was of course no time for questions – so we shall never know those answers. Note to the organizer, make time for questions, it’s why we are here.