Appstore 2.0: Amazon Vs Apple & Google

Summary: Amazon is probably the Internet’s best retailer. As it launches its own AppStore, we provide a detailed analysis of its digital media business and pick out the key opportunities it offers to content owners, network service providers and manufacturers.

Below is a major extract from this 18 page Telco 2.0 Analyst Note that can be downloaded in full in PDF format by members of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing service and the Telco 2.0 Dealing with Disruption Stream using the links below.

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‘Growing the Mobile Internet’ and ‘Fostering Vibrant Ecosystems: Lessons from Apple’ are also key session themes at our upcoming ‘New Digital Economics’ Brainstorms (Palo Alto, 4-7 April and London, 11-13 May). Please use the links or email contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003 to find out more.

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Introduction

For Amazon, the world of downloading and streaming brings both threats and opportunities: threats in that a large proportion of its current business is at risk of being cannibalised; and opportunities in that a significant element of its cost base associated with the storing, shipping, picking and packing of physical goods could be automated and reduced further.

Amazon’s key strengths are the size of its customer base; its ongoing relationships with all the major content owners in all the key categories (Books, Music, Movies/TV and Games); and most importantly, Amazon is the most highly skilled retailer on the Internet. Amazon’s Achilles heel is that it has very little control over next generation devices, apart from the Kindle, whether Tablet or Mobile phone.

In this note, we examine:

  • Amazon’s current performance;
  • The rising costs of physical distribution;
  • The attraction of online distribution (streaming and downloading) to Amazon;
  • The success of the Kindle;
  • Why Amazon has failed to gain significant market share in music;
  • The rationale behind the move into movie streaming;
  • How Amazon will shake up the AppStore market;
  • Whether the success of the Kindle means a move into more own-brand devices;
  • Amazon’s potential impact on the digital value ecosystem and how content owners, networks and device manufacturers should interact with Amazon.

Amazon’s Current Performance

Amazon’s Operating Income in 2010 was $1.4bn with a typically low retail sector margin of 4.1%. This is a far lower margin than usually sought by the content industry, networks or the device industry and one of Amazon’s key strategic advantages – its investors do not expect huge margins. However, they do expect revenue growth and this it has delivered so far (see below) through the development of the most advanced retail platform on the Internet, fierce price competition, tight control over costs and increasing product diversification.

Figure 1: Amazon Operates with the Low Margins Typical of Retail

Source: Amazon, STL Partners

Amazon is now the world’s largest e-commerce site selling over US$34bn worth of goods and services in 2010. The Amazon main website attracts more unique visitors in a month than either eBay or Apple (see below).

Figure 2: Amazon is the busiest online store in the world

At the end of 2010, Amazon had over 130m ‘active’ customer accounts, a healthy increase of over 25 million in the year. In comparison Apple has over 200m accounts with credit cards stored – but does not break-out the percentage of these that are actually buying goods and services from it. It is therefore difficult to determine whether Amazon or Apple have the most paying customers passing through their stores. Whichever is the larger, Amazon’s retail prowess cannot be ignored, especially in entertainment media where its revenues continue to grow year-on-year.

Amazon’s Media Sales

Amazon’s roots are in selling books but over the years its portfolio has been extended successfully to other type of physical media so that its media category now comprises Books, Music, Movies, Video Games and Consoles, Software and Digital Downloads in most territories (USA, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and China). The sales associated with its media business are still growing by over 10% per annum and, although declining as a percentage of total sales, still represented over 43% of total net sales in 2010. The reduction in percentage of total sales is therefore more a reflection of Amazon’s success in its diversified product range than any drop off in media.

Figure 3: Amazon’s media sales are still growing at over 10% per annum

Source: Amazon, STL Partners

It is noteworthy that Amazon doesn’t provide any further detail on the media category and therefore little is known outside of Amazon about how their customers’ habits are changing from physical media consumption to digital. However, Amazon has been very clear that it sees a future where media is consumed both physically and digitally. In short, it wants to grow the entire pie and Amazon is not abandoning the physical world in much the same way that Netflix is not abandoning the mailing of DVDs.

Amazon promotes itself to investors as growing the absolute level of Operating Income and therefore is less worried about margins than overall growth. This is important for content owners as it aligns with their priorities and means that Amazon is as concerned with cannibalisation of physical product revenues as they are. However, that does not mean Amazon is in anyway anti-online distribution.

Amazon is also highly focussed on growing Free Cash Flow per share which implies strict management of working capital and balance sheet expenditure and to understand the appeal of online business in this context, we first have to understand the costs and cost trends associated with physical products.

Counting the Cost of Physical Distribution

Amazon currently spends about US$1.4bn or 4% of revenues on the physical shipping of goods to its customers. Despite Amazon’s famed distribution efficiency, this percentage has increased over the last couple of years, eating ever further beyond the associated shipping revenues, as illustrated below.

Figure 4: Amazon’s Net Shipping Costs Continue to Rise Over and Above P&P Charges to Consumers

Source: Amazon, STL Partners

This is probably down to two factors:

  1. Amazon offers an annual “Prime” shipping service where for a fixed annual shipping commitment, customers receive “free” shipping for each purchase. It is estimated that 15% of Amazon customers are “Prime” subscribers. It is assumed that “Prime” customers are more loyal to Amazon and are their heavier spenders; and
  2. Amazon has moved into selling more bulky goods over the years, such as PCs, which are far more expensive to ship than books.

Furthermore, there are additional costs associated with physical distribution.

Figure 5: Physical fulfilment costs Remain Stable as a Percentage of Net Sales

Source: Amazon, STL Partners

Amazon spent around US$2.9bn or 8.5% of revenues in 2010 on fulfilment costs (or the picking and packing) of goods. Amazon doesn’t break-out how much it spends on payment processing (included within cost of goods sold) or maintaining the technology (elements include Technology and Content, Depreciation and Amortisation) for its various e-commerce sites. 

The Attraction of Online Distribution

With Amazon’s ability to manage the combined physical costs of shipping and fulfilment to 12.5% of revenues in 2010, we believe that Amazon should be able to deliver online distribution for less than the 30% benchmark ‘agency fee’ revenue share typical in the online distribution model. And, that is before the additional efficiencies that Digital distribution offers over Physical. Therefore the margins offered up by the digital environment are highly attractive to Amazon.

Furthermore digital goods, in the main, fit perfectly into Amazon’s Operating Income growth model as the carrying cost of inventory is minimal and cash for goods is received immediately from customers, while the payment to content owners is typically dispersed 30-days after purchase. The major exception to this rule is when content owners demand large upfront fees for either access to content libraries or for exclusive deals. This is a major feature of both the Movies/TV and Music industry and may account at least in part for the differing levels of take up Amazon has experienced between these and e-books.

So, where does Amazon sit in online distribution – streaming and downloading? Is it a major player that needs to be actively worked with or against or can it be left out of the strategic thinking of the others in the digital online ecosystem – content owners, network service providers and device manufacturers? A closer examination of the position of Amazon in each of the major digital content categories – publishing, music, video and apps, provides valuable insight.

The success of the Kindle: more eBooks than Paperbacks

Amazon launched the Kindle in 2007 as an e-ink book reader for an introductory price of US$399, which in its first iteration had connectivity exclusively provided through the Sprint CDMA network. However, Amazon developed more than a hardware device with the Kindle, it built the whole surrounding ecosystem for sale, delivery and management of mainly electronic books but also other publishing media such as newspapers.

Figure 6: The Amazon Kindle

Today, the hardware price of the Kindle has come down to US$139 (WiFi only) to US$189 (WiFi+3G) and Amazon has launched Kindle readers across all the major platforms from Apple (Mac, iPhone and iPad), Google Android, RIM Blackberry and Microsoft (Windows and Windows Phone7). If a customer buys a book from the Kindle store, it can be read on most of the major platforms for a single fee.

Amazon doesn’t break out sales data for either Kindle or eBooks, but the following extract from Amazon’s 4Q 2010 earnings release provides just an indication of progress being made.

Amazon.com is now selling more Kindle books than paperback books. Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the Company has sold 115 Kindle books. Additionally, during this same time period the Company has sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books. This is across Amazon.com’s entire U.S. book business and includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher.

The Company sold millions of third-generation Kindle devices with the new advanced paper-like Pearl e-ink display in the fourth quarter and the third-generation Kindle eclipsed ―Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – as the best selling product in Amazon’s history.

The U.S. Kindle Store now has more than 810,000 books including New Releases and 107 of 112 New York Times Bestsellers. Over 670,000 of these books are $9.99 or less, including 74 New York Times Bestsellers. Millions of free, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books are also available to read on Kindle.

January 2011’s sales figures from the American Association of Publishers also point to the growing success of eBooks – US$70m – a 116% increase year-on-year – despite a small, 1.8% (US$805m), fall in the overall market. eBook market share figures are hard to verify. Apple recently claimed 20% of the market, Barnes and Noble (US-only) also claimed 20% of the market and Amazon claims between 70% and 80% of the market – obviously not all can be true.

Wild market claims are to be expected in this high growth stage of the market development and there is uncertainty whether a 20% market share is by downloads or value and whether downloads include free, out of copyright eBooks which generate no revenue. All estimates that the STL team have seen indicate that Amazon is the market leader with a market share in the 50%-75% range. This CNET interview with Ian Freed, an Amazon vice president in charge of the Kindle, provides more detail on where Amazon sees itself in the market.

Although detailed data isn’t available about whether Amazon is yet making a contribution to operating profit from the Kindle and eBooks generally, all the indications are that Amazon is happy with the results and the continued investment speaks for itself.

The STL team believes Amazon’s success can be put down to five key factors:

  • Amazon probably has the highest concentration of book reader users as its customers;
  • Reading books on the Kindle is a very pleasurable experience and much better than some non-dedicated devices, especially the PC and the phone;
  • Amazon has developed a very easy-to-use platform which removes the friction of purchase and delivery of eBooks to a wide choice of platforms;
  • Amazon has tried to deliver great prices to its customers with new eBooks typically priced cheaper than their hardback alternatives. The Kindle Store has always included a wide selection of free out of copyright books; and
  • Amazon has built a store with access to material from the largest publishers to the smallest self-publishers. Self publishers are driving innovation with low-pricing for smaller episodic books.

The STL team believes that this last point is extremely important. Currently, Amazon has over two million sellers on its stores most of which are small businesses selling physical goods with the help of Amazon tools and services. This volume is far in excess of most developer schemes and almost certainly far larger than the combined total of content sellers across all developer platforms. Amazon will have little problem building and managing an even larger community as the developer community has largely adopted ‘Amazon Web Services’ as their cloud platform of choice, and sellers are already familiar and happy with Amazon tools and services. 

Amazon and Music: Downloads not moving the needle

In the UK for example, Amazon share of the overall music retail market was a healthy 13.4% in 2009. Overall, the internet players have the largest share of the music market with 39%, compared to specialist retailers, such as HMV, with 33% and Supermarkets, such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s, with 23.6%. In a decade, the internet as an e-commerce channel has overtaken all of the UK’s high street. The download only Apple iTunes service with share of 10.6% clearly dominates the online distribution market.

Figure 7: Amazon’s Music Share is Healthy but not Dominant

Source: BPI Yearbook 2009

In the USA, Billboard estimated that in 2009 iTunes had 26.7% retail market share, which translated into 65.5% online market share. For a la carte download sales, the iTunes U.S. presence is overwhelming, with an estimated 93% market share.

In contrast, Amazon’s MP3 store had an overall 1.3% market share, which translates into about 5% share for a la carte downloads. Amazon commenced digital downloads in 2007 and has been a constant innovator.
The service launched with DRM-free tracks which were therefore portable between devices and with higher bitrate encoding, providing higher quality to the discerning ear. In the USA, the catalogue has continually grown and from an initial 2m tracks have grown to today having 1.4m albums and 15.2m tracks. But, as befits its corporate strategy of “everyday low pricing”, Amazon has put most effort into price innovation.

Figure 8: Amazon’s Smart Targeting & Competitive Pricing

Normally, Amazon has the lowest price for its chosen Album of the week. For instance, The Strokes new album is currently available for £4 compared to iTunes pricing of £8 in the UK. This is typical behaviour of a master retailer driving customers to their stores through headline offers and promotions to their customers. Apple has a very different approach relying on an agency model where the content owner has limited choice in setting retail prices.

In the USA, Amazon’s Daily Deal launched in June 2008 and it became the subject of a Department of Justice (DOJ) inquiry in May 2010 after iTunes began grumbling about Amazon promotions to the major labels. No comment has been released by the DOJ, but it seems clear that with Apple’s huge iTunes share that any attempt to discourage labels from participating in the Amazon promotions might be construed as price fixing. Amazon has continued to play its strongest card – differentiation though price competition.

Amazon has built an MP3 application for Android phones which allows the immediate purchase and playing of songs. It is noticeable that they haven’t built the same tools for Apple. In fact, the Amazon WindowShop application for the iPad actually displays download prices (and the playing of short clips), but doesn’t allow the direct purchase or download. Given, Apple’s domination of the music download market and the fact that Apple have allowed the Kindle store to operate on the iPad/iPhone, the STL team predict it will not be long before the DOJ launch another inquiry into Apple’s music practices.

In contrast to eBooks, Amazon does not seem to have built significant music share and the STL team puts this down to three main reasons:

  • The Amazon experience of buying music is not as good as Apple iTunes. This is made especially difficult to match as Apple control the device – the mass market seems to prefer convenience over price on low unit price items;
  • Amazon is not associated with the music market in the same way as Apple is; and
  • There are plenty of alternatives to paid music downloads. Spotify in Europe and Rhapsody in the USA, although of questionable profitability, have achieved success on other platforms with different business models, providing both paid-for and advertiser funded unlimited music streaming.

The move into Movie streaming

Amazon has taken a different approach to Movies than to either Books or Music.

In the UK and Germany, Amazon has recently acquired full ownership of a DVD and streaming service, called LoveFilm. This operates primarily under a subscription model providing access to a library of films. It is the UK and German equivalent of Netflix.

A subscription business operates under a vastly model than a retailer. It requires a much larger investment in both customer acquisition and retention and in content libraries. There is also reasonable investment required in gaining access and building clients for the plethora of devices coming onto the market to connect TVs to the internet. It also starts to compete with powerful payTV companies that have very deep pockets, large customer bases and similar ambitions.

In the USA, Netflix has managed to build a strong base of customers, a large market capitalization and is currently a darling of both the press and the investor community. The STL team has written extensively in the past about Netflix, its business model and prospects (see: The Impact of Netflix: Can Telcos Help Hollywood; Entertainment 2.0: New Sources of Revenu for Telcos?)

Amazon has decided to enter the fray in the USA with its Instant Video service. This service offers a limited selection of free streaming movies to subscribers of the Amazon Prime service. The Amazon Prime service is priced at US$79/per annum, compared to the Netflix streaming cost of US$8/month ($96/annum). Although, the annual fee may put some off, Amazon seems to have solved the problem of expensive customer acquisition. However, it is questionable whether Amazon under a licensing structure can afford similar levels of investment in content as Netflix.

A key factor in deciding this will be the support of studios for its model and their willingness to provide premium content and in this Amazon is gaining traction.

Figure 9: New Releases are Going to Amazon First

It is noticeable in the USA that Amazon are heavily promoting download-to-rent and download-to-own options which brings new releases to the library and are favoured by the Movie Industry.

Amazon is also an UltraViolet member which again we have written extensively about (see Telcos Risk Missing the UltraViolet Online Opportunity) and it is likely in the near future that Amazon will sell physical DVDs with the right to stream to multiple devices.

In Movies, STL Partners believes Amazon is uncertain which of the options will win in the future and is willing to invest in a wide range of options; effectively, it’s hedging its bets. But as in Music, Amazon has a long way to catch up with early platforms, whether that’s Apple, which leads the download-to-rent and own market, or Netflix which leads the subscription business. Again, this makes it an interesting target for partnerships, particularly for content owners looking to establish models that work better for them than Apple or Netflix.

Amazon shaking up the AppStore market

Amazon also has a significant business selling both physical electronic games and consoles. It was therefore hardly surprising that it launched Android AppStore heavily populated with games and featuring Angry Birds Rio as its launch game.

Figure 10: Amazon’s Appstore

The Amazon AppStore offers some very interesting features, including:

  • The ability to sample the game on a PC before committing to a purchase;
  • Amazon setting the retail price of the game with the developer only suggesting a retail price;
  • Free Daily Promotions of leading applications; and
  • Amazon performing a limited curation role, checking the applications are free of viruses

There are also teething problems with the service. For example, the Amazon AppStore is impossible to install on some “locked-down” Android handsets.

But Amazon has entered the market and the STL team believes it will be a serious player for years to come. It is also our belief that Amazon will want to develop AppStores for all major platforms, which will bring them into considerable conflict with certain platform owners, not just Apple.

To read the report in full, including the conclusions and recommendations…

  • Lessons for other players in the Digital Entertainment Value Chain
  • Content Owners
  • Network Services Providers
  • Device Manufacturers

Members of the Telco 2.0TM Executive Briefing Subscription Service and the Dealing with Disruption Stream can access and download a PDF of the full report here. Non-Members, please see here for how to subscribe. Alternatively, please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003 for further details. ‘Growing the Mobile Internet’ and ‘Lessons from Apple: Fostering vibrant content ecosystems’ are also featured at our AMERICAS and EMEA Executive Brainstorms and Best Practice Live! virtual events.

Digital Entertainment 2.0: Telcos risk missing the UltraViolet online video opportunity

Summary: 2011 sees the introduction of the UltraViolet digital locker platform by DECE, a consortium led by 6 of the 7 top Hollywood studios and backed by 50 more cross-industry heavyweights. This anticipates and supports the transition of film and TV to online distribution. Here we analyse the opportunities telcos will miss out on if they fail to engage with DECE.

Logged-in members can download this 19 page Analyst Note in PDF format. Non-members need to subscribe to read it

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Alternatively, please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003 for further details. There’s also more on DECE UltraViolet strategies at our AMERICAS, EMEA and APAC Executive Brainstorms and Best Practice Live! virtual events.

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In our Executive Briefing entitled, Entertainment 2.0: New Sources of Revenue for Telcos we laid out a series of trends that are changing the video market and the opportunities and challenges this poses for telcos. In this Analyst Note, we examine the ways in which DECE’s UltraViolet will impact the market and explain why telcos can’t afford to adopt a ‘wait, see and proctect approach to its introduction.

DECE UltraViolet explained

DECE UltraViolet has been created in anticipation and support of the switch-over of video content from physical to online distribution. It aims to offer consumers an ultimate level of flexibility as they can not only own, store and manage their content through a digital locker but also share it with family members and view it anywhere through a wide range of devices from TVs and PCs to tablets and mobile phones.

Figure 1 – The UltraViolet proposition: buy once, play everywhere, forever, for the whole family 

Source: Telco 2.0

Furthermore, it provides the video industry with a real alternative to piracy based on an open platform with licensable specifications, not a proprietary system such as Apple’s. The platform is set up to support multiple business models and rentals are expected to follow relatively quickly, which explains the interest of Netflix and LoveFilm (now part of Amazon) in the initiative, but at launch it will offer only online purchase.

Finally, the digital locker meta-data will provide a single view of customer buying and viewing preferences on which future planning can be based.

It is not surprising therefore that the initiative has attracted a powerful and active membership comprising in excess of 50 companies including 6 of the 7 major studios, network equipment and consumer electronics vendors, service providers and retailers. Notable exceptions to the current membership are Disney, which has its own digital locker, and WalMart, which has a deal with Apple. Both, however, are free to join at a later date as it is an open platform.

UltraViolet is due to launch in the US in the middle of 2011, with Canada and the UK following towards the end of the year before a full international rollout begins in 2012.

Virtually all the players involved in the video distribution ecosystem from content owners to retailers have their own plays in online video distribution but they are still heavily involved in DECE because they understand that it has the potential to impact on their existing and future business plans. This is not the case with telcos, with a few notable exceptions such as BT which is a member of DECE.

Telco’s adopt a “wait, see and protect my network” strategy

Most telcos seem to be cautious and sceptical about UltraViolet and digital content lockers in general. Rightly or wrongly, they perceive that UltraViolet faces major challenges and represents a headache for them rather than an opportunity.

They appear to doubt that they need digital locker content to drive use of their services and see little margin in retailing movies. Furthermore, mobile network operators in particular are concerned about the impact of video streaming on network congestion and will not hesitate to institute network policy rules that will curtail this perceived “damage”.

Without a clear opportunity for “delivery” income for telcos (for x-plan MBs, QoS, guaranteed bandwidth), or clear business models for moving to this, there is limited incentive for them to step up their interest. We have therefore observed three general telco responses to DECE. For clarity, we have described these as three discreet positions but, in reality, telcos can and do pursue combinations of these.

Telco2.0 believes that there is a potential opportunity for telcos to adopt a more pro-active approach to DECE through an early-adopter strategy as:

  • The entertainment market is large and premium entertainment key
  • Entertainment plays a key role in securing consumer attention
  • DECE UltraViolet has the ingredients for success
  • UltraViolet represents an opportunity for telcos as suppliers to the ecosystem
  • Telcos share a common interest with DECE

Each of these reasons is discussed in detail in the sections that follow.

Entertainment: A market too large and valuable to ignore

The global entertainment market is huge and as such is obviously attractive to telcos looking to counter falling ARPUs. It accounts for a considerable share of disposable income and overall entertainment spending is much higher than that on telecoms.

In the UK, which as the leading western European market is to a degree indicative of most developed markets, the average household monthly spend on entertainment is more than double that for communications. Furthermore, the decline in communications spend has been faster than that for entertainment over the last five years and this is despite the rapid decline in music sales revenues.

Figure 2 – Comparative monthly spend on telecoms and entertainment in the UK

  

Source: STL Partners Estimates, OFCOM – UK Regulator

Of course UltraViolet is not yet targeting entertainment in its entirety or even all of the home entertainment video market. Instead it is initially setting its sights on the retail market through online sell-through and that is currently very small, accounting for a mere $590 million in 2009 and the lowest contributor of all entertainment sectors to online revenues.

Figure 3 – Digital film downloads are so far the lowest revenue generators in online entertainment

 

Source: Telco 2.0

It is perhaps not surprising therefore, that telcos have not seen this as a particularly inspiring target segment. However, online sell-through is a nascent market and one we believe has exponential growth potential.

This is certainly proving the case for online rentals. According to Bain’s figures presented at the 9th Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm in Santa Monica, 80% of US consumers already view video online and Netflix streaming services now account for 20% of total US internet traffic, twice YouTube’s share. Furthermore, by 2014, 60% of TVs will be connected to the Internet, addressing the major remaining barrier to take up by connecting the primary viewing device to online video content.

Sizing the market

Attempts to accurately size future markets are always fraught with inaccuracy, and none more so than punts on film and TV entertainment, as the outcome will always be dependent on the quality and appeal of the content as well as many other factors.

That aside, we are convinced that the market can grow much faster than currently predicted. In fact, we see DECE UltraViolet as capable of stimulating market growth for digital sell-through similar to that of Apple (depicted below). We expect it to grow its share of the home entertainment market from 1% to 13.5%, providing a sizable target market and one that will continue to grow for some time.

Figure 4 – An Apple-style growth is possible for online sell through with UltraViolet

 

Source: PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Apple, Netflix, Telco 2.0

UltraViolet’s growth potential should at least put it on telco’s ‘strategic interest radar’, especially as it has been designed to accommodate multiple business models, including the rental models in the future.

However, we would argue that waiting for the growth to happen is missing more than one opportunity. The first is to influence in the platform’s development and, perhaps even more importantly, the second is to fit it into and around other strategies that are currently developing in silos, namely video services, customer retention and digital shopping malls.

Low margins put off telcos – but they miss its attention value

There is a set of telcos that believe that TV and film content neither offers the kind of margins they require, nor differentiation, as content owners have proven that they are unwilling to negotiate exclusive deals with telcos that can usually only reach a minority proportion of any national market.

Again, we believe this is missing a point for any telco looking to develop a significant retail play. Certainly it is true that margins are low. Tesco, the world’s third largest retailer by revenue, has revealed that it is currently making next to no margin on its physical video business and there is no reason to assume it will be significantly better online. However, the business case for entertainment products developed by what we consider a ‘master retailer’ is not based on sales but instead on footfall and the overall size of the shopping basket. Indeed, it is going all out to develop the same relationship online between entertainment product sales and fuller baskets.

Tesco is developing a digital Locker platform that works across multiple devices to deliver a joined up experience and drive impulse buying. It is a staunch supporter of DECE/Ultraviolet and plans on using it, rebranded as InvisiDisc, as a central part of its entertainment platform.

Figure 5 – Tesco puts digital locker at heart of portal proposition

 

Source: Tesco Presentation, 11th Telco 2.0 Brainstorm, EMEA

As the Tesco example proves, while margins on the products themselves can be small or non-existant, there may be significant other benefits. Tesco see that the overall basket spend is significantly higher when it involves an entertainment product, and entertainment is a both an impulse buy and an attention draw.

Furthermore, the investments that have been made in infrastructure by the DECE group means the entry costs are lower. For the few telcos that don’t have an entertainment platform, UltraViolet offers an opportunity to join the party and use that infrastructure to access what is expected to be premium content which they can offer to customers through their own retail portals. For the majority that already have their own platforms consideration should be given to adding UntraViolet into the mix for what is lost in duplicating infrastructures could be gained with premium content.

Entertainment’s primary role in securing consumer attention

Many upstream services rely on the ability to secure consumer attention and sell this on to third parties in some form. This is the basis of the advertising-based business models, including the one that dominates the Internet. Entertainment is a major tool in attracting and maintaining consumer attention as it has such a high profile in the minds and lives of consumers (as exemplified by the UK figures in the chart below).

Figure 6 – Comparative daily usage of entertainment and telecoms in the UK (2009)

Source: STL Partners Estimates, OFCOM – UK Regulator

The difference in the time spent by consumers on communications services and entertainment is stark and reflects the fact that while communication is a vital part of everyday life, entertainment holds their attention more. This is particularly important and valuable when developing portal and other upstream strategies. as exemplified by the value retailers such as Tesco that are using it as a key part of their online strategy.

DECE UltraViolet has a recipe for success

The ability of online entertainment delivery platforms to move the needle should not be in question. Netflix and LoveFilm have already made an impact with online rentals, while Apple’s success is indisputable. To do this they have introduced services that have a utility value combined with innovative and disruptive business and pricing models. Using these experiences as a base reference, we have identified the following as important success factors for online distribution platforms:

  • Offering new and premium content in a timely way and from many owners;
  • Creating a substantial back catalogue quickly;
  • Delivering to all devices that consumers wish to use and that are in the market;
  • Supporting the legal transfer of content between devices and people;
  • Creating a differentiated value proposition;
  • Introducing services with a disruptive model and pricing;
  • Creating multiple channels to market;
  • Future-proofing so that consumers don’t lose their content as devices and technologies develop;
  • Providing links between physical and online products to ease the transition.

In theory at least, UltraViolet has strengths across all these.

UltraViolet is getting the proposition right

UltraViolet’s basic proposition of ‘buy once, play everywhere, forever, for the whole family’ is a new and valuable one that overcomes many of the frustrations consumers have with online video content as it offers:

  • A single point of access to content from multiple content owners;
  • The ability to buy once and view content on up to 12 devices;
  • The ability for up to 6 family members to view the same content.

This creates a new and differentiated value proposition and supports the legal transfer of content between people and devices, as well as the capability to view on a full range of devices now and in the future.

It is an open platform based on interoperable standards and licensable technology specifications. So far DECE has laid out some the technical framework for a Common File Format which means video files are encoded and encrypted just once, as well as the technical design specifications for each of the six major categories of company – content providers, retailers, streaming service providers, device and application providers and digital distribution infrastructure providers. These ensure that all players are working in the same way and services will be interoperable. (See Can Telcos Help Save the Video Distribution Industry for more details).

All the right backers…

This is a unique and highly valuable proposition and one that has attracted a great deal of support and attention from those currently active in the value chain with the exception of telcos. All the major Hollywood studios bar Disney, which has its own digital locker solution, are behind the initiative which should ensure high quality and desirable content from the start and gives potential access to a huge back catalogue. Indeed, it is widely accepted that the studios will promote new content through UltraViolet first, providing an online alternative to the DVD/Blu-ray sales window.

This is highly significant for telcos that have so far been satisfied to stick to delivering their own content services through VoD, IPTV and mobile believing they have an advantage in providing a multi-screen service as they have the potential to control the delivery quality and have understanding of the user’s device.

However, they are still reliant on content deals with studios to secure the types of films and TV programmes that consumers want. These are usually based around the fourth pay TV window, meaning that consumers would get to new content earlier through UltraViolet than telco VoD services. For this reason we believe that telcos ignoring DECE as part of their downstream consumer entertainment services are missing an important plank in their strategic portfolio.

Furthermore, online service providers are well represented, as are device manufacturers, while traditional retailers, with the notable exception of WalMart which has an existing relationship with Apple, are also putting their weight behind it, providing multiple channels to market.

…with a common and urgent motivation

Beyond the appeal of the consumer proposition, DECE UltraViolet is also appealing because it offers a credible alternative to both piracy and Apple that have dominated the transition of music content distribution online.

As we’ve previously discussed in Digital Hollywood: How to out-Apple Apple, Apple dominates online music and is constantly adding more TV and film content. With over 150 million account holders it is the biggest music retailer in the world and has created the first and so far the dominant business model for digital online retail with its 30/70 revenue share deals. It no longer includes optical drives in any of its current product portfolio as it hopes to drive more film and TV content to its digital store, expanding its content range and reinforcing its existing business model.

To read the Analyst Note in full, including in addition to the above analysis of:

  • Apple, piracy and the motivations of the DECE membership
  • The continuing importance of the physical product
  • UltraViolet’s upstream potential
  • Recommendations for telco entertainment strategy development to include DECE/UltraViolet

…and additional figures…

  • Figure 7 – Apple’s 5-screen Strategy
  • Figure 8 – BD Live proposition provides link between physical and online
  • Figure 9 – Generic 2-sided model for entertainment
  • Figure 10 – US: Traditional video distributors and cable companies are most under threat, as online viewing continues to increase
  • Figure 11 – Potential roles for telcos in digital lockers

Members of the Telco 2.0TM Executive Briefing Subscription Service can download the full 19 page report in PDF format here. Non-Members, please see here for how to subscribe. Please email contact@telco2.net or call +44 (0) 207 247 5003 for further details. There’s also more on DECE UltraViolet strategies at our AMERICAS, EMEA and APAC Executive Brainstorms and Best Practice Live! virtual events.