Midsized and small cable operators face a big-picture problem when it comes to their video strategies: how to manage declining traditional linear pay-TV services while investing in the on-demand streaming alternatives that consumers increasingly demand.
Innovations such as a new hosted TV platform jointly developed by Enghouse Networks and Canadian cable provider Access Communications Co-operative may offer a solution to the problem. Speaking on a March 16 Light Reading webinar, representatives from both companies described the new platform and discussed how smaller cable providers can still play in the quickly evolving TV market.
And it is evolving, with the lines blurring between traditional pay-TV and broadband-delivered streaming alternatives. According to recent Hub Entertainment research, about two thirds of US TV households now subscribe to both traditional pay-TV and streaming video services. At the same time, the number of services that consumers tap for video is on the rise, from an average of three per household in 2018 to 4.8 today.
Jeffrey De Sarno, chief technology officer of Access Communications, sees traditional linear TV playing a role – and supplying a competitive advantage – for several years to come. But, at the same time, Access is facing renewed competition from regional telecom SaskTel, which has launched fiber service and streaming video in its Saskatchewan footprint. The latter has helped create a more sophisticated customer.
"In measuring customers' demands, 'one must measure across the entire business offering – and most of those demands point right back to the need to consume video, whether it's broadband linear or IPTV or via online streaming," he said. "We know that it's gone beyond the in-home television experience – that consumers are doing exactly what consumers have been told to do: any device, anytime, anywhere."
Fusing traditional TV with new streaming content, however, is no easy task in an industry where "cap and grow" investment is the norm. So Access turned to video technology vendor Enghouse Systems, and together they came up with a hosted, IP-delivered service that offers Canadian MSOs access to more than 200 live TV channels, plus a network DVR, catch-up service and restart functions and the ability to support streaming and on-demand content.
As a hosted service, Enghouse TV takes a lot of the uncertainty out of creating a next-generation video offering, said Mick McCluskey, Enghouse's vice president of product management.
"So one of the things that we've tried to do with the Access-Enghouse partnership is really look at how we can impact the costs by allowing those to be shared between different operators. And because we've got a solution with Access that's already set up and then running through the technical issues, many of them have already been addressed," McCluskey noted. "And what that means is that by partnering together with Access, we're able to offer other operators right across the country low startup costs, service costs that align with their revenues and also the confidence of fast-time-to-revenue and low deployment risks."
Another advantage that Enghouse TV seeks to offer is speed-to-market. From the time the cable operator signs the contract, the system can be custom configured for friendly customer trails within 30 days and full product launch can occur within 90 days, McCluskey said.
At the same time, the hosted TV service can expand to add new applications, be it e-sports or gaming. "So this is not the end of the partnership but really the start of a partnership," McCluskey said. "This needs to evolve."
A system such as Enghouse TV may make the transition to IPTV and streaming video easier, but there are still plenty of questions circulating in the video market – and that includes identifying the key target demographic. During the webinar, participants were asked what viewer age groups were most important, and overwhelmingly they chose all age groups. One participant also argued that Generation Z does not as yet have much buying power and tend to use mobile devices to access video. But De Sarno emphatically disagreed.
"I would say to you that Baby Boomers are starting to become minimalists – they are buying less. They don't want as much stuff, and they're not buying as much in packaging and what have you – and we're seeing that with the erosion of the different services in our operation," he said. "We believe Millennials and Gen Zs are still a heavy influencer over the next two to three years, and they're driving the change of how content is consumed. So I believe if you're building for your past, I think you're going to get stuck there. But if you're building for your future, I think you need to focus on where Generation Z or Millennials are taking us."
— Karen Brown, Special Contributor, Light Reading