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TalkTalk Tunes Into CSG for Its TV Reboot

Ray Le Maistre

Competitive UK quad play service provider TalkTalk is set to revamp its video services offering in the coming months and has looked across the Atlantic for inspiration.

Like many others seeking to boost revenues and customer satisfaction through enhanced TV and video service offerings, TalkTalk -- which competes with the likes of BT, Sky and cable operator Virgin Media in the UK comms and media services market -- knows that it needs to offer services that its customers can view and manage from their mobile devices (smartphones and tablets), as well as through their set-top boxes.

As part of an 18-month process, TalkTalk recently engaged in a six-month RFI (request for information) and RFP (request for proposal) process, with an aim to "reboot" TalkTalk's TV service. And according to the operator's managing director of TV services, Aleks Habdank, there was a very clear priority -- "we needed multiscreen capability."

So, who to work with? The TalkTalk team revved up an old-fashioned recommendation engine -- word of mouth -- to find its optimum technology partner. The TalkTalk crew chatted to its content partners such as Disney and it soon became clear that CSG International was a prime candidate and that, through its work with a number of major content companies, it "understands content," noted Habdank. (See TalkTalk Deploys CSG for TV Revamp.)

CSG? That CSG... the billing company? Yep, except the vendor does a lot more than offer outsourced billing services and revenue management platforms these days -- Ascendon, its "digital services platform" that runs as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) system in public cloud environments, is used by Comcast (for its XFINITY on Campus service), Sony Pictures, ESPN and others for the management and delivery of video services. (See Comcast Streams More... But Only for Students.)

That background in revenue management and data handling is what has helped CSG build a platform that works for the likes of TalkTalk. The UK operator believes it has found a partner that not only understands content but also technology, business processes and customer care. And according to CSG's VP of product management, Chad Dunavant, the vendor identified "what customers do, how they use content services," and has built on its billing heritage to develop a multi-device, multi-user and multi-content platform. "It enables more than just subscriptions -- it enables different ways to get content via one portal, without the user having to manage multiple accounts and engage with multiple sources," adds Dunavant.

That single portal capability was important to TalkTalk -- it wants to be able to offer its customers the opportunity to get the content they want even if it isn't in TalkTalk's library, by accessing third-party content resources via the TalkTalk platform and via one customer relationship. According to CSG's Dunavant, the operator will be able to modify the platform to offer services such as "complete you box set" for customers who watch several episodes of a particular series and then want to find the rest without having to exit the TalkTalk interface.

With CSG on board -- Habdank didn't want to identify the "long and distinguished line" of companies that didn't make the cut -- TalkTalk is moving ahead with tests and trials with a view to launching a new commercial service during the summer. That process involves taking CSG's system and modifying it to suit TalkTalk's needs. Robert David, head of TV Product at TalkTalk, says the operator had already developed a new user interface (UI) for its set-top boxes in late 2016 and "we will take that out to all customers with the CSG platform."

The UK operator -- which will take full responsibility for the provision of the content services and for customer relationships via the cloud-based system once the new service launches -- needs all the bells and whistles it can get as it battles for market share in the UK. The company, which is known as a value-for-money (low-cost) service provider, ended Sept. 2016 -- the first half of its current financial year - with about 1.3 million TV customers, while market leader Sky has 11.4 million.

Want to know more about pay-TV subscriber trends? Check out our dedicated video services content channel here on Light Reading.

But there are signs it is on the up. TalkTalk suffered a significant setback in late 2015 following a security breach that impacted its share price and resulted in significant customer churn. (See TalkTalk Plummets on Security Woes.)

But the company rebuilt customer confidence through 2016, reduced churn rates, improved customer satisfaction ratings, steadied its financials -- its fiscal first year revenues to the end of Sept. 2016 were down by 1.1% at £902 million ($1.12 billion) -- and recently announced a new top management duo.

As a result, the UK operator's share price has gained 10% this year and is currently priced at 188 pence on the London Stock Exchange. Now it just needs its sales and customer numbers to head in the same direction.

— Ray Le Maistre, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, International Group Editor, Light Reading

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3/29/2017 | 2:56:51 PM
TalkTalk TV
TalkTalk's TV offering has been a hodge podge of the old Tiscali IPTV, Tesco's Blinkbox (OTT VoD) and YouView (the hybrid of terrestrial TV and VoD via broadband) which it runs in partnership with BT (TalkTalk's main competitor). Consolidating these different platforms and adding new capabilities such as mobile delivery with Ascendon makes a lot of sense. If it's good enough for DisneyLife it's good enough for TalkTalk. 
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