Consumer strategy: What should telcos do?

Globally, telcos are pursuing a wide variety of strategies in the consumer market, ranging from broad competition with the major Internet platforms to a narrow focus on delivering connectivity.

Some telcos, such as Orange France, Telefónica Spain, Reliance Jio and Rakuten Mobile, are combining connectivity with an array of services, such as messaging, entertainment, smart home, financial services and digital health propositions. Others, such as Three UK, focus almost entirely on delivering connectivity, while many sit somewhere in between, targeting a single vertical market, in addition to connectivity. AT&T is entertainment-orientated, while Safaricom is financial services-focused.

This report analyses the consumer strategies of the leading telcos in the UK and the Brazil – two very different markets. Whereas the UK is a densely populated, English-speaking country, Brazil has a highly-dispersed population that speaks Portuguese, making the barriers to entry higher for multinational telecoms and content companies.

By examining these two telecoms markets in detail, this report will consider which of these strategies is working, looking, in particular, at whether a halfway-house approach can be successful, given the economies of scope available to companies, such as Amazon and Google, that offer consumers a broad range of digital services. It also considers whether telcos need to be vertically-integrated in the consumer market to be successful. Or can they rely heavily on partnerships with third-parties? Do they need their own distinctive service layer developed in-house?

In light of the behavourial changes brought about by the pandemic, the report also considers whether telcos should be revamping their consumer propositions so that they are more focused on the provision of ultra-reliable connectivity, so people can be sure to work from home productively. Is residential connectivity really a commodity or can telcos now charge a premium for services that ensure a home office is reliably and securely connected throughout the day?

A future STL Partners report will explore telcos’ new working from home propositions in further detail.

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The UK market: Convergence is king

The UK is one of the most developed and competitive telecoms markets in the world. It has a high population density, with 84% of its 66 million people living in urban areas, according to the CIA Factbook. There are almost 272 people for every square kilometre, compared with an average of 103 across Europe. For every 100 people, there are 48 fixed lines and 41 broadband connections, while the vast majority of adults have a mobile phone. GDP per capita (on a purchasing power parity basis) is US$ 48,710, compared with US$ 65,118 in the US (according to the World Bank).

The strength of the state-funded public service broadcaster, the BBC, has made it harder for private sector players to make money in the content market. The BBC delivers a large amount of high-quality advertising-free content to anyone in the UK who pays the annual license fee, which is compulsory to watch television.

In the UK, the leading telcos have mostly eschewed expansion into the broader digital services market. That reflects the strong position of the leading global Internet platforms in the UK, as well as the quality of free-to-air television, and the highly competitive nature of the UK telecoms market – UK operators have relatively low margins, giving them little leeway to invest in the development of other digital services.

Figure 1 summarises where the five main network operators (and broadband/TV provider Sky) are positioned on a matrix mapping degree of vertical integration against the breadth of the proposition.

Most UK telcos have focused on the provision of connectivity

UK telco B2C strategies

Source: STL Partners

Brazil: Land of new opportunities

Almost as large as the US, Brazil has a population density is just 25 people per square kilometre – one tenth of the total UK average population density. Although 87% of Brazil’s 212 million people live in urban areas, according to the CIA Fact book, that means almost 28 million people are spread across the country’s rural communities.

By European standards, Brazil’s fixed-line infrastructure is relatively sparse. For every 100 people, Brazil has 16 fixed lines, 15 fixed broadband connections and 99 mobile connections. Its GDP per capita (on a purchasing power parity basis) is US$ 15,259 – about one third of that in the UK. About 70% of adults had a bank account in 2017, according to the latest World Bank data. However, only 58% of the adult population were actively using the account.

A vast middle-income country, Brazil has a very different telecoms market to that of the UK. In particular, network coverage and quality continue to be important purchasing criteria for consumers in many parts of the country. As a result, Oi, one of the four main network operators, became uncompetitive and entered a bankruptcy restructuring process in 2016. It is now hoping to to sell its sub-scale mobile unit for at least 15 billion reais (US$ 2.8 billion) to refocus the company on its fibre network. The other three major telcos, Vivo (part of Telefónica), Claro (part of América Móvil) and TIM Brazil, have made a joint bid to buy its mobile assets.

For this trio, opportunities may be opening up. They could, for example, play a key role in making financial services available across Brazil’s sprawling landmass, much of which is still served by inadequate road and rail infrastructure. If they can help Brazil’s increasingly cash-strapped consumers to save time and money, they will likely prosper. Even before COVID-19 struck, Brazil was struggling with the fall-out from an early economic crisis.

At the same time, Brazil’s home entertainment market is in a major state of flux. Demand for pay television, in particular, is falling away, as consumers seek out cheaper Internet-based streaming options.

All of Brazil’s major telcos are building a broad consumer play

Brazil telco consumer market strategy overview

Source: STL Partners

Table of contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
    • The UK market: Convergence is king
    • BT: Trying to be broad and deep
    • Virgin Media: An aggregation play
    • O2 UK: Changing course again
    • Vodafone: A belated convergence play
    • Three UK: Small and focused
    • Takeaways from the UK market: Triple play gridlock
  • Brazil: Land of new opportunities
    • The Brazilian mobile market
    • The Brazilian fixed-line market
    • The Brazilian pay TV market
    • The travails of Oi
    • Vivo: Playing catch-up in fibre
    • Telefónica’s financial performance
    • América Móvil goes broad in Brazil
    • TIM: Small, but perfectly formed?
    • Takeaways from the Brazilian market: A potentially treacherous transition
  • Index

Investing in original content: Is it worth it?

Introduction

An in-depth analysis of whether telcos can make money from original content, this executive briefing builds on previous STL reports exploring the role of telcos in entertainment and advertising:

This new report evaluates the success of AT&T, BT and Swisscom’s original content and related distribution strategies, as well as identifying lessons to be learnt. It also appraises their investment in original content, exclusive content (e.g. sport) and buying content creators (e.g. Time Warner).

Following the acquisition of Time Warner, AT&T is a content owner and content distribution colossus. What is its underlying objective for providing a wide range of over-the-top (OTT) services, including DTV Now (satellite TV service delivered over-the-top) and AT&T Watch (live and on demand content)? How will content from Time Warner’s acquisition in June 2018 be incorporated into its products?

Has BT’s head on clash with Sky in the market with live sports met expectations? Has its heavy investment in football grown its revenue take, broadband subscriptions and attracted eyeballs?

Swisscom has grown to become Switzerland’s largest TV provider, using live sports as its differentiator. What other initiatives have contributed to its market leadership and can it maintain its dominance?

The case for investing in original content

Telcos typically invest in original content to achieve three objectives:

  • to open up new sources of revenue (direct subscription sales, wholesale distribution and ads sales)
  • to increase sales of core telco services/products (e.g. fixed broadband)
  • to raise their profile, increase their relevance and build brand loyalty.

But trying to pursue all these objectives simultaneously requires some difficult compromises – maximising content revenues means distributing the content as widely as possible, which means it no longer becomes a competitive differentiator through which to sell connectivity and build loyalty to the core proposition. In any case, regulators may require telcos to make some original content, notably the rights to live sport, available to competitors.

Therefore, achieving all of these objectives requires telcos to perform a delicate balancing act between making their content widely available and integrating it with the core connectivity proposition from both a technical perspective (using a cloud-based or physical set-top box) and a commercial perspective (attractive bundles and/or zero-rating the content). They need to perform this balancing act at a time when the digital entertainment market is in upheaval – customers in many markets are migrating from traditional pay TV (one or two year contracts) to video-on-demand subscriptions (month-by-month).

Not all content is equal

Ownership of sports rights should guarantee an audience linked to the size of the fanbase. Investing in original content, such as dramas, is far riskier. For every series of The Crown, a Netflix hit airing its third series in 2019, there is Marco Polo that cost US$200 million, cancelled after two series and an abject failure. Telco shareholders would baulk at taking such risks, given many have qualms about BT’s investment in Premier League rights (32 matches a season, 2019-22), which are equivalent to £9.2 million per game.

Alternatively, telcos could purchase a content developer/media company with a back catalogue of proven programming, as AT&T has done by buying Time Warner in June 2018. Investment in original content is a differentiator for pay TV providers (e.g. Sky) as well as over-the-top players (e.g. Netflix). Netflix has dramatically increased its investment in original content from its early foray with the House of Cards. During 2018 Netflix invested about US$6.8 billion in original content, including films, simultaneously screening some films at cinemas (e.g. Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs).

However, the audience for expensively-created content is finite. They are binge watching fewer shows. In the USA, according to Hub Entertain Research, viewers watched an average of 4.4 favourite shows in 2018, compared to 5.2 in 2016. These viewers increasingly find out about favourite shows through advertisements and watch them on an video-on-demand service.

More and more competition

Although they benefit from economies of scale and scope, the major global online players are not oblivious to the risks of creating original content. Amazon somewhat mitigates the risk by using co-production. Amazon is working with pay TV companies (e.g. Sky / Sky Atlantic) as well as public service broadcasters (BBC). The co-production of content with Sky provides Amazon with the rights to show series outside Sky’s footprint. For the BBC, a junior partner in the relationship, it gets to air the co-produced programmes after Amazon has shown them (e.g. the final three series of Ripper Street). Apple is also investing US$1 billion in original content, which will be distributed by its new streaming service[1]. The new service, business model unknown, will also be accessible on non-Apple products. New Samsung, Sony, LG and Vizio TVs will support Apple iTunes movies and TV shows[2].

It is not just the major Internet platforms that are competing with telcos for eyeballs. Major content rights owners are also taking their first steps to launch direct-to-consumer services. The Disney Play streaming service will launch in late 2019, once its existing distribution agreement with Netflix comes to an end. New sports streaming services are vying for attention, e.g. DAZN owns the rights to English Premier League (EPL) in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Japan, as well as combat sports (e.g. Matchroom Boxing and UFC) and other sports. Many sports federations also provide direct-to-consumer streaming services, alongside the sale of linear TV sports rights. These include The National Hockey League’s NHL.TV and National Football League’s GamePass in the USA, and the English Football League (EFL)’s iFollow service in the UK. Consumers outside the UK can also pay to stream EFL matches.

The importance of multiple content distribution models

But it is not just about having the right content: consumers also want the right commercial proposition. Pay TV providers recognise that not all consumers are willing to sign-up to 12- or 18-month contracts. Falling pay TV subscription rates, and a realisation that one-size doesn’t fit all has seen the emergence of month-to-month skinny pay TV packages. These offers may or may not be packaged with broadband connectivity.

Those that do subscribe to traditional pay TV will not subscribe to a second pay TV subscription, but many households are willing to subscribe to more than one additional over-the-top service. Half of the video-on-demand (SVOD) subscribers in the UK subscribe to more than one VOD service (Amazon, Netflix, NOW TV), and 71% of households with a VOD service also have a pay TV subscription (according to GfK SVOD Tracker).

There are essentially four key roles in the content value chain, identified and discussed by STL partners in previous reports. These roles are programme, package, platform and pipe. Traditionally, telcos’ primary objective is to sell as many pipes as possible. To that end, they offer packages of content (generally TV channels), which are sold on a subscription basis or offered for no fee, supported by advertising. A platform is used to distribute the channels, films and other content created and curated by another entity.

Telco content distribution models

four ways to monetise original content: pay TV, bundling and OTT

Source: STL Partners

Telco revenue from content and related services

An in-depth analysis of telcos’ return on investment in sports or film rights or original content is tricky. Telcos are not in the habit of revealing content revenue data. Figure 5 summarises the main metrics that need to be considered to evaluate the effectiveness of telcos’ investment in content.

The revenues that telcos can generate from content consist primarily of:

  1. Sale of the content to consumers
  2. Sale of banner, video and TV ads that sit / roll alongside the content
  3. Wholesale of content via third-party platforms
  4. Net additions of broadband / mobile pipes, increased ARPU/C and reduction in user/connection churn, increase in broadband / mobile pipe revenue.

Measuring return on investments in content

measuring original content ROI through direct sales, advertisement, wholesale and connectivity

Source: STL Partners

In the rest of this report, we evaluate AT&T, BT and Swisscom against these criteria.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • The case for investing in original content
  • More and more competition
  • The importance of multiple content distribution models
  • Telco revenue from content and related services
  • Swisscom sells content with strings attached
  • Investing in rights holders to secure original content
  • It is about the packaging, as well as the content
  • Limited advertising
  • Enriching the viewer experience
  • Mixed financial results
  • BT and its big bet on live sport
  • BT TV reaches an inflexion point
  • BT TV – getting more expensive
  • Is BT Sport changing direction?
  • BT’s broader branding strategy
  • BT as a content aggregator
  • BT Sport is available to rivals’ pay TV customers
  • Is BT making a financial return?
  • Is there a case for continued investment?
  • AT&T takes on Netflix
  • King of content?
  • DirecTV Now: A lackluster start
  • Takeaways: Walking a tightrope between old and new
  • A shaky financial performance to date
  • Conclusions

Figures:

  1. The differing strategies of Swisscom, BT and AT&T
  2. AT&T’s Entertainment Group is dragging down the broader business
  3. Rating the different elements of telcos’ original content strategy
  4. Telco content distribution models
  5. Measuring return on investments in content
  6. Swisscom’s TV subscriptions and market share
  7. Summary of Swisscom’s TV products
  8. Cost and availability of Teleclub Sport
  9. The growth in Swisscom’s TV Connections and Bundles
  10. Swisscom’s content strategy hasn’t arrested the decline in wireline revenues
  11. Swisscom’s ballpark annual revenue run rate from TV
  12. BT TV packages, February 2019 compared to end 2015
  13. BT has bought more low-grade matches and is paying less per game
  14. How BT tries to monetise its sports content
  15. A breakdown of BT’s brands and target segments
  16. BT Sport App packages across its multiple brands
  17. How BT is using content partnerships to broaden its offering
  18. BT Sport has helped to drive a major uplift in annual revenue
  19. BT’s Consumer Division has struggled to increase profitability
  20. BT’s TV and broadband customers are now flatlining
  21. Growth in BT TV and BT Sport connections has tailed off
  22. BT’s consumer fixed line revenue has been fairly flat
  23. BT Sport residential and commercial revenue estimates 2018 and 2022
  24. AT&T’s telecom, media and entertainment businesses (February 2019)
  25. AT&T’s pay TV and SVOD services (as of February 2019)
  26. The Entertainment Group’s revenues are slipping
  27. AT&T’s traditional pay TV business is in decline
  28. AT&T’s broadband connections are fairly flat
  29. AT&T’s Entertainment Group is seeing its top line squeezed
  30. AT&T is combining inventory to help increase ad spend

[1] Apple TV will be launched in 2019 https://www.fool.com/investing/2018/12/15/apples-original-content-ambitions-are-growing.aspx,  https://www.macworld.co.uk/news/apple/apple-streaming-service-3610603/

[2] Content can be streamed from an Apple device using Apple’s AirPlay wireless streaming protocol stack, which will be integrated into TVs.

Can Netflix and Spotify make the leap to the top tier?

Introduction

This is the first of two reports analysing the market position and strategies of four global technology companies – Netflix, Spotify, Tesla and Uber – that might be able to make the leap to become a top tier consumer digital player, akin to Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google. The two reports explore how improvements in digital technologies and consumer electronics are changing the entertainment and automotive markets, allowing the four companies to cause significant disruption in their sectors.

The first part of this report considers Netflix and Spotify, which are both trying to disrupt the entertainment market. For more on the increasing domination of online entertainment by the big Internet platforms, read the STL Partners report Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix: Whose digital content is king?

This report considers how well Netflix and Spotify are prepared for the likely technological changes in their markets. It also provides a high-level overview of the opportunities for telcos, including partnership strategies, and the implications for telcos if one of the companies were able to make the jump to become a tier one platform.

STL Partners is analysing the prospects of Netflix, Spotify, Tesla and Uber because all four have proven to be highly disruptive players in their relevant industries.

The four are defined by three key factors, which set them aside from their fellow challengers:

  • Rapid rise: They have become major mainstream players in a short space of time, building world-leading brands that rival those of much older and more established companies.
  • New thinking: Each of the four has challenged the conventions of the industries in which they operate, leading to major disruption and forcing incumbents to completely re-evaluate their business models.
  • Potential to challenge the dominance of Amazon, Apple, Facebook or Google: This rapid success has allowed the companies to gain dominant positions in their relative sectors, which they have used as a springboard to diversify their business models into parallel verticals. By pursuing these economies of scope, they are treading the path taken by the big four Internet companies (see Figure 1). Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon have come from very diverse roots (ranging from an Internet search engine to a mobile device manufacturer), but are now directly competing with each other in a number of areas (communications, content, commerce and hardware).

Figure 1: How the leading Internet companies have diversified

Source: STL Partners

The evolution of online entertainment

As broadband networks proliferate and households are served by fatter pipes, telecoms networks are carrying more and more entertainment content. While there are major players in every country and region, there are essentially only six online entertainment platforms meeting this demand on a global scale – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix and Spotify. These six companies are delivering increasingly sophisticated real-time entertainment services that are generating a growing proportion of Internet traffic, at the expense of traditional web browsing, file sharing, download services and physical retail entertainment.

The six are building global economies of scale that can’t be matched by national/regional media companies and telcos. Global distribution is becoming increasingly important in the media industry, given the prohibitive costs of sourcing content and then packaging it and distributing it across multiple different devices and networks.

Scale is also important for another reason. As the volume of digital content proliferates, consumers increasingly rely on recommendations. The platform capturing the most behavioural data (people who watched this, also watched this) should be able to offer the best recommendations.

Although the platforms with scale have a competitive advantage, they are still vulnerable to disruption because the online entertainment market is evolving rapidly with providers, including rights owners, experimenting with new formats and concepts.

As outlined in the STL Partners report Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix: Whose digital content is king?, most of this experimentation relates to the following six key trends, which are likely to shape the online entertainment market over the next decade.

  1. Greater investment in exclusive content: The major online platforms are increasingly looking to either source or develop their own exclusive content, both as a competitive differentiator and in response to the rising cost of licensing third parties’ content. Exclusive content may be anything from live sports programming to original drama series and even blockbuster movies. This is an area in which both Netflix and Amazon Video have heavily invested, making the two direct competitors for talent in this space.
  2. Growing support for live programming: People like to watch major sports events and dramatic breaking news live. Some of the online platforms are responding to this demand by creating live channels and giving celebrities and consumers the tools they need to peercast – broadcast their own live video streams.
  3. The changing face of user-generated content: Although YouTube, Facebook and other social networks have always relied on user-generated content, advances in digital technologies are making this content more compelling. If they are in the right place, at the right time, even an amateur equipped with a smartphone or a drone can produce engaging video pictures.
  4. Increasingly immersive games and interactive videos: As bandwidth, latency, graphics processing and rendering technology all improve, online games are becoming more photorealistic making them increasingly akin to an interactive movie. Furthermore, virtual reality will enable people to adopt different viewpoints within a 360-degree video stream, enabling them to choose the perspective from which to watch a movie or a live sports event. For more info, please see the STL Partners’ report: AR/VR: Won’t move the 5G needle.
  5. Rising use of ad blockers and mounting privacy concerns: Many consumers are looking for ways to avoid video advertising, which is more intrusive than a static banner ad and uses more bandwidth. At the same time, many national and regional regulators are becoming increasingly alarmed by the privacy implications of the data mining of consumer services and products, leading to clashes between the major online advertising platforms and regulators.
  6. Ongoing net neutrality uncertainty: In many jurisdictions, net neutrality regulation is either still under development or is vaguely worded as regulators struggle to balance the legitimate need to prioritise some online services with the equally important need to ensure that small content and app developers aren’t discriminated against.

To read on about Netflix and Spotify’s strategies and implications for telcos, please login and download the report, or contact us to subscribe.

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Netflix: much loved, but too narrow
  • Spotify: leading a formidable pack
  • Lessons for telcos
  • Conclusions for telcos
  • Introduction
  • The evolution of online entertainment
  • Netflix: Keeping it original
  • Right time, right proposition
  • Competitive clouds gathering
  • Economies of scale, but not scope
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats
  • Spotify: The power of the playlist
  • Smaller than Netflix, but more rounded
  • Strengths
  • Weaknesses
  • Opportunities
  • Threats
  • Takeaways for telcos
  • Lessons for telcos
  • Next steps for telcos

Figures:

  • Figure 1: How the leading Internet companies have diversified
  • Figure 2: Netflix revenue and paid subscriber growth, 2015-2017
  • Figure 3: Netflix has grown much faster than its rivals in the US
  • Figure 5: Netflix from a monolithic website to a flexible microservices architecture
  • Figure 6: Netflix: SWOT analysis
  • Figure 7: Tailoring movie artwork to the individual viewer
  • Figure 8: Netflix’s addressable market is growing steadily
  • Figure 9: The number of mobile broadband connections is rising rapidly
  • Figure 10: How studio films aim to make money using release windows
  • Figure 11: Hulu’s broad proposition is a challenge to Netflix
  • Figure 12: Growth in digital music is now offsetting declining sales of physical formats
  • Figure 13: Spotify’s rapid revenue and paid subscriber growth
  • Figure 14: Spotify’s fast-growing premium service is the profit engine
  • Figure 15: A SWOT analysis for Spotify
  • Figure 16: Spotify has significantly lower ARPU and costs than Netflix
  • Figure 17: Spotify’s losses continue to grow despite rapid revenue rises
  • Figure 18: Spotify’s costs are rising rapidly
  • Figure 19: YouTube is a major destination for music lovers

Making big beautiful: Multinational operators need the telco cloud

Telcos’ (economies of) scale in perspective

As a result of their wide regional or global footprints, multi-country operators typically generate tens of billions of USD in revenues. By this measure, telcos’ scale (as defined by their revenues) is indeed comparable with the likes of Google and Facebook (see Figure 2). However, we can consider scale through a different lens as well: defined by the number of users, it becomes evident that telcos are dwarfed relative to the large internet companies. When considering the number of users, the telecoms industry is more fragmented than the internet sector – resulting in the unfavourable comparison, since no one telco can achieve a similar customer-base.

The fragmented nature of the global telecommunications industry means that telcos tend to struggle to create so-called demand-side economies of scale. These economies of scale rely on network effects stemming from the value generated by having a large number of users. In such a case, there is both inherent value in the use of the service and value derived from other people’s use of the service.

The big success of the internet giants can, in part, be attributed to significant network effects. Telcos, on the other hand, are in a tougher position. Partly this is due to the nature of the services they traditionally provide. Unlike the internet giants who can reach anyone around the world with an internet connection, telcos are have largely been limited to serving users in the countries in which they operate networks.
Despite this, large operators should – in theory – be well-equipped to create so-called supply-side economies of scale due to the sheer size of their business. With telecoms being a high fixed-costs business, the cost of providing telco services per customer falls as the number of customers increases.

Figure 2: Some telcos are big – but they are unable to create the same network effects as the internet giants

So, have these large multinational telcos managed to create scale effects? Unfortunately, we find rather sobering evidence to the contrary. Figure 3 shows that multi-country operators tend to underperform the industry average. Large European multi-country operators – such as Orange, Telefonica, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom – all underperform the telco global average operating margin of 17%. On the other hand, large single-market operators, namely AT&T and Verizon, achieve margins above the global average.

Figure 3: European giants struggle to create economies of scale

Contents:

  • Executive Summary
  • Multinational telcos have struggled to create economies of scale
  • A Telco Cloud strategy can deliver scale economies for multinational operators
  • Introduction – Economies of scale in telecoms
  • International expansion has delivered a global footprint for some telcos
  • Telcos’ (economies of) scale in perspective
  • Multinational telcos need to revisit their approach to creating economies of scale
  • The dilemma of multinational telcos – can Telco Cloud help overcome it?
  • Telco Cloud: a brave new world?
  • The cost problem: multinational telcos need to create synergies across markets
  • The revenue problem: multinationals need to calibrate the right innovation model across markets
  • The traditional Opco-driven innovation has inherent problems
  • Centralisation of innovation isn’t the answer either
  • What is the right model for telcos?
  • Conclusions

Problem: Telecoms technology inhibits operator business model change (Part 1)

Introduction

Everyone loves to moan about telcos

‘I just can’t seem to get anything done, it is like running through treacle.’

‘We gave up trying to partner with operators – they are too slow.’

‘Why are telcos unable to make the most basic improvements in their service offerings?’

‘They are called operators for a reason: they operate networks. But they can’t innovate and don’t know the first thing about marketing or customer service.’

Anyone within the telecoms industry will have heard these or similar expressions of dissatisfaction from colleagues, partners and customers.  It seems that despite providing the connectivity and communications services that have truly changed the world in the last 20 years, operators are unloved.  Everyone, and I think we are all guilty of this, feels that operators could do so much better.  There is a feeling that these huge organisations are almost wilfully seeking to be slow and inflexible – as if there is malice in the way they do business.

But the telecoms industry employs millions of people globally. It pays quite well and so attracts talent. Many, for example, have already enjoyed success in other industries. But nobody has yet, it seems, been able to make a telco, let alone the industry, fast, agile, and innovative.

Why not?

A structural problem

In this report, we argue that nobody is at fault for the perceived woes of telecoms operators.  Indeed, the difficulty the industry is facing in changing its business model is a result of financial and operational processes that have been adopted and refined over years in response to investor requirements and regulation.  In turn, investors and regulators have created such requirements as a result of technological constraints that have applied, even with ongoing improvements, to fixed and mobile telecommunications for decades. In essence, operators are constrained by the very structures that were put in place to ensure their success.

So should we give up?

If the limitations of telecoms operators is structural then it is easy to assume that change and development is impossible.  Certainly sceptics have plenty of empirical evidence for this view.  But as we outline in this report and will cover in more detail in a follow up to be published in early February 2016 (Answer: How 5G + Cloud + NFV can create the ‘agile telco’), changes in technology should have a profound impact on telecoms operators ability to become more flexible and innovative and so thrive in the fast-paced digital world.

Customer satisfaction is proving elusive in mature markets

Telecoms operators perform materially worst on customer service than other players in the US and UK

Improving customer experience has become something of a mantra within telecoms in the last few years. Many operators use Net Promoter Scores (NPS) as a way of measuring their performance, and the concept of ‘putting the customer first’ has gained in popularity as the industry has matured and new customers have become harder to find. Yet customer satisfaction remains low.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) publishes annual figures for customer satisfaction based on extensive consumer surveys. Telecommunications companies consistently come out towards the bottom of the range (scoring 65-70 out of 100). By contrasts internet and content players such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Netflix have much more satisfied customers and score 80+ – see Figure 1.

Figure 1: Customers are generally dissatisfied with telecoms companies

 

Source: American Customer Satisfaction index (http://www.theacsi.org/the-american-customer-satisfaction-index); STL Partners analysis

The story in the UK is similar.  The UK Customer Satisfaction Index, using a similar methodology to its US counterpart, places the Telecommunications and Media industry as the second-worst performer across 13 industry sectors scoring 71.7 in 2015 compared to a UK average of 76.2 and the best-performing sector, Non-food Retail, on 81.6.

Poor customer services scores are a lead indicator for poor financial performance

Most concerning for the telecoms industry is the work that ACSI has undertaken showing that customer satisfaction is linked to the financial performance of the overall economy and the performance of individual sectors and companies. The organisation states:

  • Customer satisfaction is a leading indicator of company financial performance. Stocks of companies with high ACSI scores tend to do better than those of companies with low scores.
  • Changes in customer satisfaction affect the general willingness of households to buy. As such, price-adjusted ACSI is a leading indicator of consumer spending growth and has accounted for more of the variation in future spending growth than any other single factor.

Source: American Customer Satisfaction index (http://www.theacsi.org/about-acsi/key-acsi-findings)  

In other words, consistently poor performance by all major players in the telecoms industry in the US and UK suggests aspirations of growth may be wildly optimistic. Put simply, why would customers buy more services from companies they don’t like? This bodes ill for the financial performance of telecoms operators going forward.

Senior management within telecoms knows this. They want to improve customer satisfaction by offering new and better services and customer care. But change has proved incredibly difficult and other more agile players always seem to beat operators to the punch. The next section shows why.

 

  • Introduction
  • Everyone loves to moan about telcos
  • A structural problem
  • So should we give up?
  • Customer satisfaction is proving elusive in mature markets
  • Telecoms operators perform materially worst on customer service than other players in the US and UK
  • Poor customer services scores are a lead indicator for poor financial performance
  • ‘One-function’ telecommunications technology stymies innovation and growth
  • Telecoms has always been an ‘infrastructure play’
  • …which means inflexibility and lack of innovation is hard-wired into the operating model
  • Why ‘Telco 2.0’ is so important for operators
  • Telco 2.0 aspirations remain thwarted
  • Technology can truly ‘change the game’ for operators

 

  • Figure 1: Customers are generally dissatisfied with telecoms companies
  • Figure 2: Historically, capital deployment has driven telecoms revenue
  • Figure 3: Financial & operational metrics for Infrastructure player (Vodafone) vs Platform (Google) & Product Innovator (Unilever)

Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix: Whose digital content is king?

Introduction

This report analyses the market position and strategies of five global online entertainment platforms – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Netflix.

It also explores how improvements in digital technologies, consumer electronics and bandwidth are changing the online entertainment market, while explaining the ongoing uncertainty around net neutrality. The report then considers how well each of the five major entertainment platforms is prepared for the likely technological and regulatory changes in this market. Finally, it provides a high level overview of the implications for telco, paving the way for a forthcoming STL Partners report going into more detail about potential strategies for telcos in online entertainment.

The rise and rise of online entertainment

As in many other sectors, digital technologies are shaking up the global entertainment industry, giving rise to a new world order. Now that 3.2 billion people around the world have Internet access, according to the ITU, entertainment is increasingly delivered online and on-demand.

Mobile and online entertainment accounts for US$195 million (almost 11%) of the US$1.8 trillion global entertainment market today. By some estimates, that figure is on course to rise to more than 13% of the global entertainment market, which could be worth US$2.2 trillion in 2019.

Two leading distributors of online content – Google and Facebook – have infiltrated the top ten media owners in the world as defined by ZenithOptimedia (see Figure 1). ZenithOptimedia ranks media companies according to all the revenues they derive from businesses that support advertising – television broadcasting, newspaper publishing, Internet search, social media, and so on. As well as advertising revenues, it includes all revenues generated by these businesses, such as circulation revenues for newspapers or magazines. However, for pay-TV providers, only revenues from content in which the company sells advertising are included.

Figure 1 – How Google and Facebook differ from other leading media owners

Source: ZenithOptimedia, May 2015/STL Partners

ZenithOptimedia says this approach provides a clear picture of the size and negotiating power of the biggest global media owners that advertisers and agencies have to deal with. Note, Figure 1 draws on data from the financial year 2013, which is the latest year for which ZenithOptimedia had consistent revenue figures from all of the publicly listed companies. Facebook, which is growing fast, will almost certainly have climbed up the table since then.

Figure 1 also shows STL Partners’ view of the extent to which each of the top ten media owners is involved in the four key roles in the online content value chain. These four key roles are:

  1. Programme: Content creation. E.g. producing drama series, movies or live sports programmes.
  2. Package: Content curation. E.g. packaging programmes into channels or music into playlists and then selling these packages on a subscription basis or providing them free, supported by advertising.
  3. Platform: Content distribution. E.g. Distributing TV channels, films or music created and curated by another entity.
  4. Pipe: Providing connectivity. E.g. providing Internet access

Increasing vertical integration

Most of the world’s top ten media owners have traditionally focused on programming and packaging, but the rise of the Internet with its global reach has brought unprecedented economies of scale and scope to the platform players, enabling Google and now Facebook to break into the top ten. These digital disruptors earn advertising revenues by providing expansive two-sided platforms that link creators with viewers. However, intensifying competition from other major ecosystems, such as Amazon, and specialists, such as Netflix, is prompting Google, in particular, to seek new sources of differentiation. The search giant is increasingly investing in creating and packaging its own content.  The need to support an expanding range of digital devices and multiple distribution networks is also blurring the boundaries between the packaging and platform roles (see Figure 2, below) – platforms increasingly need to package content in different ways for different devices and for different devices.

Figure 2 – How the key roles in online content are changing

Source: STL Partners

These forces are prompting most of the major media groups, including Google and, to a lesser extent, Facebook, to expand across the value chain. Some of the largest telcos, including Verizon and BT, are also investing heavily in programming and packaging, as they seek to fend off competition from vertically-integrated media groups, such as Comcast and Sky (part of 21st Century Fox), who are selling broadband connectivity, as well as content.

In summary, the strongest media groups will increasingly create their own exclusive programming, package it for different devices and sell it through expansive distribution platforms that also re-sell third party content. These three elements feed of each other – the behavioural data captured by the platform can be used to improve the programming and packaging, creating a virtuous circle that attracts more customers and advertisers, generating economies of scale.

Although some leading media groups also own pipes, providing connectivity is less strategically important – consumers are increasingly happy to source their entertainment from over-the-top propositions. Instead of investing in networks, the leading media and Internet groups lobby regulators and run public relations campaigns to ensure telcos and cablecos don’t discriminate against over-the-top services. As long as these pipes are delivering adequate bandwidth and are sufficiently responsive, there is little need for the major media groups to become pipes.

The flip-side of this is that if telcos can convince the regulator and the media owners that there is a consumer and business benefit to differentiated network services (or discrimination to use the pejorative term), then the value of the pipe role increases. Guaranteed bandwidth or low-latency are a couple of the potential areas that telcos could potentially pursue here but they will need to do a significantly better job in lobbying the regulator and in marketing the benefits to consumers and the content owner/distributor if this strategy is to be successful.

To be sure, Google has deployed some fibre networks in the US and is now acting as an MVNO, reselling airtime on mobile networks in the US. But these efforts are part of its public relations effort – they are primarily designed to showcase what is possible and put pressure on telcos to improve connectivity rather than mount a serious competitive challenge.

  • Introduction
  • Executive Summary
  • The rise and rise of online entertainment
  • Increasing vertical integration
  • The world’s leading online entertainment platforms
  • A regional breakdown
  • The future of online entertainment market
  • 1. Rising investment in exclusive content
  • 2. Back to the future: Live programming
  • 3. The changing face of user generated content
  • 4. Increasingly immersive games and interactive videos
  • 5. The rise of ad blockers & the threat of a privacy backlash
  • 6. Net neutrality uncertainty
  • How the online platforms are responding
  • Conclusions and implications for telcos
  • STL Partners and Telco 2.0: Change the Game

 

  • Google is the leading generator of online entertainment traffic in most regions
  • How future-proof are the major online platforms?
  • Figure 1: How Google and Facebook differ from other leading media owners
  • Figure 2: How the key roles in online content are changing
  • Figure 3: Google leads in most regions in terms of entertainment traffic
  • Figure 4: YouTube serves up an eclectic mix of music videos, reality TV and animals
  • Figure 5: Facebook users recommend videos to one another
  • Figure 6: Apple introduces apps for television
  • Figure 7: Netflix, Google, Facebook and Amazon all gaining share in North America
  • Figure 8: YouTube & Facebook increasingly about entertainment, not interaction
  • Figure 9: YouTube maintains lead over Facebook on American mobile networks
  • Figure 10: US smartphones may be posting fewer images and videos to Facebook
  • Figure 11: Over-the-top entertainment is a three-way fight in North America
  • Figure 12: YouTube, Facebook & Netflix erode BitTorrent usage in Europe
  • Figure 13: File sharing falling back in Europe
  • Figure 14: iTunes cedes mobile share to YouTube and Facebook in Europe
  • Figure 15: Facebook consolidates strong upstream lead on mobile in Europe
  • Figure 16: YouTube accounts for about one fifth of traffic on Europe’s networks
  • Figure 17: YouTube & BitTorrent dominate downstream fixed-line traffic in Asia-Pac
  • Figure 18: Filesharing and peercasting apps dominate the upstream segment
  • Figure 19: YouTube stretches lead on mobile networks in Asia-Pacific
  • Figure 20: YouTube neck & neck with Facebook on upstream mobile in Asia-Pac
  • Figure 21: YouTube has a large lead in the Asia-Pacific region
  • Figure 22: YouTube fends off Facebook, as Netflix gains traction in Latam
  • Figure 23: How future-proof are the major online platforms?
  • Figure 24: YouTube’s live programming tends to be very niche
  • Figure 25: Netflix’s ranking of UK Internet service providers by bandwidth delivered
  • Figure 26: After striking a deal with Netflix, Verizon moved to top of speed rankings

How BT beat Apple and Google over 5 years

BT Group outperformed Apple and Google

Over the last five years, the share price of BT Group, the UK’s ex-incumbent telecoms operator, has outperformed those of Apple and Google, as well as a raft of other telecoms shares. The following chart shows BT’s share price in red and Apple’s in in blue for comparison.

Figure 1:  BT’s Share Price over 5 Years

Source: www.stockcharts.com

Now of course, over a longer period, Apple and Google have raced way ahead of BT in terms of market capitalisation, with Apple’s capital worth $654bn and Google $429bn USD compared to BT’s £35bn (c$53bn USD).

And, with any such analysis, where you start the comparison matters. Nonetheless, BT’s share price performance during this period has been pretty impressive – and it has delivered dividends too.

The total shareholder returns (capital growth plus all dividends) of shares in BT bought in September 2010 are over 200% despite its revenues going down in the period.

So what has happened at BT, then?

Sound basic financials despite falling revenues

Over this 5 year period, BT’s total revenues fell by 12%. However, in this period BT has also managed to grow EBITDA from £5.9bn to £6.3bn – an impressive margin expansion.   This clearly cannot go on for ever (a company cannot endlessly shrink its way to higher profits) but this has contributed to positive capital markets sentiment.

Figure 2: BT Group Revenue and EBITDA 2010/11 – 2014/15

[Figure 2]

Source: BT company accounts, STL Partners

BT pays off its debts

BT has also managed to reduce its debt significantly, from £8.8bn to £5.1bn over this period.

Figure 3: BT has reduced its debts by more than a third (£billions)

 

Source: BT company accounts, STL Partners

Margin expansion and debt reduction suggests good financial management but this does not explain the dramatic growth in firm value (market capitalisation plus net debt) from just over £20bn in March 2011 to circa £40bn today (based on a mid-September 2015 share price).

Figure 4: BT Group’s Firm Value has doubled in 5 Years

Source: BT company accounts, STL Partners

  • Introduction: BT’s Share Price Miracle
  • So what has happened at BT, then?
  • Sound basic financials despite falling revenues
  • Paying off its debts
  • BT Sport: a phenomenal halo effect?
  • Will BT Sport continue to shine?
  • Take-Outs from BT’s Success

 

  • Figure 1: BT’s Share Price over 5 Years
  • Figure 2: 5-Year Total Shareholder Returns Vs Revenue Growth for leading telecoms players
  • Figure 3: BT Group Revenue and EBITDA 2010/11-2014/15
  • Figure 4: BT has reduced its debts by more than a third (£billions)
  • Figure 5: BT Group’s Firm Value has doubled in 5 Years
  • Figure 6: BT Group has improved key market valuation ratios
  • Figure 7: BT ‘broadband and TV’ compared to BT Consumer Division
  • Figure 8: Comparing Firm Values / Revenue Ratios
  • Figure 9: BT Sport’s impact on broadband

Netflix: Threat or Opportunity?

Introduction

The way in which audiences consume movies and television content appears to be changing.  While ‘linear’ viewing of scheduled channels remains robust, the market for DVD has collapsed and new pricing and consumption models are opening up.

At the forefront of this is Netflix – with a total of 63M paying subscribers across 50 markets (it is present in a large number of locations in Latin America and the Caribbean) and a penetration of over 34% in the US, Netflix has created a new paradigm for on demand content.

How this model is going to impact other players in the market in the long term is as yet unclear. To date in the US, pay platform penetration has remained robust, premium channels such as HBO are also performing strongly, and for rights owners and producers a new player bidding for rights is hugely welcome.

So is Netflix a ‘win: win’ opportunity for all concerned?  It may not be that straightforward.  

  • For leading pay TV players, Netflix will be yet another component forcing them to invest in innovation to minimise customers churning from bundled packages, and reducing flexibility around price increases;
  • For TV channels Netflix could lead to programme rights inflation, as a new player with a distinct business model comes into bid for premium exclusive content rights
  • For both established TV platforms and premium channels there is the risk that in price sensitive markets or demographics Netflix offers may gain traction, particularly among younger consumers at the expense of traditional subscription models.
  • For telcos looking to compete with cable and satellite, while Netflix could offer a cost effective way to deliver attractive premium content, it also carries a risk of constraining the telcos into the position of a ‘dumb (or happy) pipe’, not sharing in upsides and not owning the consumer who deals directly with Netflix.

STL Partners has partnered with Prospero Strategy Consultants who work extensively with content and platform players on new market dynamics to prepare this Briefing. The work has drawn on interviews with key players and analysis of quantitative and qualitative market data, to determine the threats and opportunities emerging from this new content ecosystem and how these are likely to develop.

Overview of Netflix History

Netflix began as a postal DVD business in the US in 1997, launching its US subscription streaming service in 2007.  Since 2011 it has focused on rapid expansion into international markets with the biggest growth now coming from international subscribers (67% growth between 2013 and 2014) while its US DVD business is now in decline.

Figure 4: Netflix subscribers 1999 – 2014(Q3) in 000s

Source: Netflix annual reports, STL Partners & Prospero analysis

Netflix changed its reporting methodology from Q1 2011

Consumer Proposition and USPs

The success of the Netflix proposition to consumers has been based on a number of components:

  • Low Price and refusal to tie users into long-term contracts
  • Volume and exclusivity of content
  • Effective User Interface, recommendation engine and multi-device access
  • Customer Data

Low Price
The low monthly price point of Netflix (USD7.99 per month in the US rising to USD8.99 for new subscribers in 2014) has been a key component of the company’s success. This price point is less than the cost of purchasing a single DVD and significantly less than monthly premium drama channels such as HBO (at ~USD15 per month). This price point (and that users are not tied into long term contracts) allows Netflix to attract distinct audience groups.

  • First, the high-end audience who are already pay subscribers.  These customers have demonstrated that they are typically price inelastic and willing to pay for more, buying Netflix on top of existing services.
  • Second, the price constrained audiences, for whom traditional pay TV is out of reach but who are interested in expanded choice.  These are often younger demographics for whom the concept of non-linear consumption is very familiar.
  • There is a third audience group, the price sensitive pay TV subscribers for whom Netflix could be an effective substitute and who could churn off traditional pay TV (either completely or partially) as a result.  While the evidence around the impact on this group is as yet nascent, it is this segment that is making incumbent pay TV players nervous.

Figure 5: Reasons Netflix streamers subscribe to the Service

Source: Alphawise, 3rd Annual Streaming Video Survey – More Devices, More Consumption, March 2013

Volume and Exclusivity

As demonstrated in Figure 5 above a key to success has been offering both range and quality of content.  However, over time the shape of the Netflix library has changed as it has used its customer insight and data to inform its rights strategy.

  • In February 2012 the Netflix US library consisted of ~15k titles (Source: SNL Kagan) of which nearly three quarters were movie titles.
  • Since 2012 the volume of library titles has declined by approximately 30% nearly all of which is accounted for by a decline in movie titles.  Netflix has increased its focus on long run drama series which already have brand recognition and which are effective at attracting and keeping audiences.
  • Interestingly, the volume of content being offered in its international markets is significantly less than in the US (about one-third) as Netflix shifts its focus to quality (as opposed to quantity of content)

Netflix’s early content deals were typically library rights and non-exclusive.  Over time that mix has shifted as Netflix increasingly looks to have a component of exclusivity with the aim of shifting from a “nice to have” to a “must have” service

  • Netflix is investing in original production of a limited number of high profile, high end drama series (such as House of Cards, Orange is the only Black and the recently announced Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon sequel).  For these Netflix can retain its exclusive rights indefinitely.
  • In addition, Netflix is bidding aggressively for exclusive windows for high end content (such as the recently announced deal for exclusive VOD rights in all territories for Gotham and first window rights in several territories for Penny Dreadful).

Figure 6: Netflix’s Evolving Content Proposition

 

Source: STL Partners & Prospero analysis

Effective consumer interface on multiple devices

Netflix has evolved a highly effective consumer interface, enabling personalisation by individual members in the household, with an easy to manage and visually effective selection mechanism.

  • Since 2008 Netflix has rolled out its proposition across multiple connected devices, with the most recent development being access on mobile devices and partnership with 4G operators such as Vodafone.  Cross device functionality gives users a consistent experience.
  • The consumer is able to choose when and where to consume Netflix content – leading to a new dynamic of series “bingeing” analogous to box set consumption.  In addition, Netflix’s deals with Smart TV providers gives consumers the ability to by-pass traditional pay TV gatekeepers.

Figure 7: Netflix’s user interface

Source: Netflix & SNL Kagan

Customer Data

  • Underlying a huge part of their success is Netflix’s control of its data.  This includes knowledge of individuals within households (who will have their own profiles), detailed insight into viewing behaviour (not just what, but when and how much), knowledge that no linear channel can match.
  • In all markets (regardless of its distribution partners) Netflix retains its customer data and does not share it.  This informs its rights negotiations and new programme investments.
  • Netflix continues to refine its customer understanding using sophisticated A/B testing where small sub groups are given slightly different user experiences to see how this changes behaviour

 

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Overview of Netflix
  • History
  • Consumer Proposition and USPs
  • Netflix International Expansion
  • Netflix Financials
  • Attitude of the Financial Markets
  • Impact of Netflix on the Market
  • Impact on Rights Owners and Producers
  • Impact on Channels
  • Impact on Pay Platforms
  • Impact on Broadband Operators
  • Summary impacts on players along the value chain
  • Responses to Netflix
  • Case Study: HBO
  • Case Study: BSkyB
  • Case Study: Broadband Operators
  • Case Study: New Competitors

 

  • Figure 1: Selected Media Companies Market Capitalisation, 1st Sept. 2014 (left) & 1st Jan. 2015 (right), USD billion
  • Figure 2: Netflix’s subscriber targets for 2020 (announced launches only) in USD million
  • Figure 3: Summary of Netflix’s Impacts along the Value Chain
  • Figure 4: Netflix subscribers 1999 – 2014 in 000s
  • Figure 5: Reasons Netflix streamers subscribe to the Service
  • Figure 6: Netflix’s Evolving Content Proposition
  • Figure 7: Netflix’s user interface
  • Figure 8: Netflix geography and timeline
  • Figure 9: Netflix’s Market Penetration over time to Dec 2013 (% households)
  • Figure 10: Netflix revenue per service area, 1999 – 2014, USD million
  • Figure 11: Netflix’s revenues & costs per business line, 2011–2014, USD million
  • Figure 12: Netflix’s net income and free cash flow, 2009 – 2014, USD million
  • Figure 13: Netflix’s streaming content obligations, 2010 – 2013, USD million
  • Figure 14: Selected Media Companies Market Capitalisation, 1st Sept. 2014 (left) & 1st Jan. 2015 (right), USD billion
  • Table 1: Comparison of Key Value Ratios
  • Figure 15: Netflix’s share price (USD), Jan 2010 – Jan 2015
  • Figure 16: Players along the Value Chain
  • Figure 17: Subscribers to premium channels in the US (%of TV households)
  • Figure 18: Changes in US Pay TV Penetration
  • Figure 19: Percentage of Households that are “cord-cutters”
  • Figure 20: Real Time Entertainment Share of Downstream Traffic
  • Figure 21: Share of Traffic of Downstream Peak Time Applications
  • Figure 22: Summary of Impacts along the Value Chain
  • Figure 23: Overview of Sky Expanded Offering
  • Figure 24: Sky’s offering across All Windows
  • Figure 25: Vodafone / Spotify and Sky Sport deals – Impact on mobile broadband usage
  • Figure 26: Netflix Broadband Partners
  • Figure 27: Netflix Competitor Set