What it takes to compete with Over-The-Top television

For the last few weeks, I have been busy working on a big in-depth report on NGA services. Although its importance can sometimes be exaggerated, TV content is of course at the heart of NGA portfolio considerations, and I wanted to delve a little bit here into how I have examined that issue.

The notion that broadband providers are scared of on-demand TV is not new, and it's an understatement. All of the recent assaults that we have seen on Net Neutrality from ISPs around the world can be summarized in two issues: SMS and TV. The latter is of course of more relevance to wireline NGA networks, and this is what I wanted to focus on today.

I think the decision to offer a TV service is not as clear-cut as it's often made to be, and I think many broadband providers may have gone down that road a little faster than was reasonable. TV delivery will only work if you can get the scale to operate it profitably, and even then the profits are likely to be limited. However, if you decide to deliver TV, then you are, like it or not, competing with the various Over-The-Top options available today. And if you decide to compete, you should make damn well sure your product is better.

My biggest frustration with IPTV strategies is this strange notion that it operates in a vacuum; that because a TV is connected to the broadband provider's network that customer is somehow captive for TV. That's absurd: with the multiplication of tablets, PCs and other screens in the home, there are now many alternatives to IPTV. If they provide a better quality of experience, then these will be used instead of the TV. And if that goes on for too long, then the IPTV service itself is at risk.


Brand New Report from Diffraction Analysis:
Building the Optimal NGA Service Portfolio


When you look at the marketing of TV offerings over NGA around the world, you see that the first thing put forward is quantity of content: number of channels, number of VoD movies, etc. That's all well and good, but it's meaningless to the customer if the ergonomy of the service doesn't allow him to watch what he wants to see when he's available to see it as opposed to watching something that happens to be on. And that's where OTT offers tend to be vastly superior to broadband providers'.

What it takes to compete with OTT offers, in my opinion, is the following:

  • rich and well-indexed content
  • fast and intuitive ergonomy
  • a powerful search engine
  • an effective recommendation engine

I haven't tested many broadband provider TV offers around the world, but none of those I did test had all four of these. In fact, very few of them had any of these.

To highlight the different operating paradigms of broadband providers and OTT TV providers, it's good to remember that in 2007 Netflix opened its recommendation code to developers in the hope of getting improvements on recommendations, and offered $1m to the first team that would get a 10% improvement on recommendation accuracy. Last year, Netflix announced that 75% of their traffic was driven by the recommendation engine. The mindset here is to never let you go.

I remember when I used to work for mobile operators a few years ago and every screen design was conceived to maximise effectiveness, minimise lag and keep the consumer engaged. I don't think many broadband provider TV interfaces are built that way, and if they don't radically change the way they approach things, then they're not competing.

To be fair, I see a few players starting to really get this. In January I talked briefly with the CEO of NDS, now part of Cisco, a company that offers such sleek and intelligent interfaces for broadband providers who want to deliver a high-engagement TV experience. The following video is an example of what Portuguese operator ZON has done with the platform:

Now I know this is an advert, and I don't know if the quality of experience is really that good when you're on the end of the line. And this isn't an endorsement of NDS either: I don't have the technical background to assess if their solution is better than others'. I just like what I see here.

What I do know though is that ZON offers this only with their fiber access, and I know why: you need a hell of a low-latency to make things this fluid. And NGA is what it takes to deliver low-latency.

At least ZON seems to be asking themselves the right questions to get customers engaged with the TV product, which will make them a lot less susceptible to go looking for OTT alternatives.

In the service report Diffraction Analysis published last week, Building the Optimal NGA Service Portfolio, we not only explore the field of NGA services of all kinds, we also examine the best delivery approaches for each. TV is only part of the equation!