Analytics/Big Data

Analytics Holds the Key to Cable's Future

As interdependencies between vast and complex systems grow -- and as competition increases -- revenue assurance has become vital to ensuring that cable businesses run profitably, and that subscribers are billed accurately and fairly. While revenue assurance currently is seen more as a short-term tactical measure, it has the potential to take on a far more strategic role, driving completely new and innovative business models in the cable industry.

Data hungry and spoiled for choice
If you look at the market forces currently driving the direction of the cable industry, there are a number of key factors to consider. On the one hand, operators are being forced to build out their networks to support increasingly data-hungry subscribers, who not only want more data, but also want it faster than ever before. Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s Visual Networking Index (VNI) forecasts that global IP traffic will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23% between now and 2019. Furthermore, it predicts that video will account for 80% of that traffic.

This surge in video traffic is largely being bolstered by the continued uptake of OTT services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. These new competitors are eroding cable operators' core revenues as subscribers cut the cord and abandon fixed-term rigid packages in favor of flexible pay-as-you-go video services. Illustrating the scale of this threat, Juniper Research forecasts that we're about to see a surge in OTT subscriptions, which will grow from 92.1 million last year to 332.2 million globally within the next five years.

Can I get a gigabyte to go?
If they want to remain competitive in an increasingly tough market, cable operators need to design the customer experience around subscribers, in the same way that OTT providers have brought their services to market. Fixed-subscription packages have had their day; customers now want choice and flexibility. As such, operators will need to transition towards usage-based billing models that enable subscribers to consume the content they want to, while only paying for the data they use. In effect, data will be consumed in the same way we consume other utilities, such as gas or electricity.

In order to support this new business model, the ability to capture and process highly accurate and granular subscriber usage data will be essential. The good news for operators is that the information they need to do so is already present on their networks; they just need to find a way to unlock the insights that it contains and integrate this with their service assurance function.

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

Fusing Internet Protocol Detail Record (IPDR) data with customer care, network and application data gives operators a detailed summary of subscriber usage to deliver highly accurate "billing-ready" data. This can be fed directly into billing systems to ensure that the balance on subscribers' accounts is accurate; preventing revenue leakage for the operator and ensuring a fair charge for subscribers. One Tier 1 carrier in North America is using this approach to identify subscribers that are abusing its data plans by using apps to hide their activity in order to steal more LTE tethering data than they are entitled to.

As a further advantage, these insights can also be used to create a 360-degree view of the customer experience, helping operators to manage consumption and allocate network resources to support subscribers more effectively. By reconciling subscriber consumption data with billing and operational information, operators can identify and rectify any inconsistencies between what's being used and what's being paid for. Having this visibility into customer usage is invaluable for care teams when it comes to resolving billing disputes. When a customer calls in to question a charge on their account, the care team will have a detailed overview of their usage over the billing period; enabling them to identify an error and rectify it, or to explain the reason for the charge with confidence in instances where the customer has incurred the charge legitimately.

Getting in the fast service lane
Of course, these changes can't be implemented overnight. Traditionally, revenue assurance teams have been hampered by a lack of timely and accurate information, with much of the process being manual. This reduces the speed with which it can be accomplished and increases the margin for human error. Implementing automated systems and processes that work in real time can both accelerate the delivery of data and ensure that it is processed accurately. This will ensure the delivery of high-quality, actionable operational intelligence for revenue assurance. It will also be important to bear in mind that these systems and processes must be fully compatible with next-generation network technologies, such as DOCSIS 3.1 and CCAP, which will be essential as operators race to boost capacity to support the growing demand for data.

Success in the cable industry will ultimately be driven by the ability to create an innovative business model that puts the customer experience first. Operators need to offer subscribers the choice and flexibility that they demand, but at the same time they must be able to manage usage and allocate resources effectively if they still want to turn a profit. As such, revenue assurance will no longer be a tactical measure, but a key strategic business function. Yet to achieve this operators need to evolve by harnessing data analytics and integrating it seamlessly with their infrastructure and back-office systems in order to avoid introducing greater complexity and safeguard the customer experience.

— Chris Menier, Vice President, Products and Strategy – Cable & Media at Guavus Inc.

DHagar 9/30/2015 | 12:55:00 PM
Re: Analytics - Cable's Future Chris,

Your point - "owning the in-home experience".. I believe is the key!
mendyk 9/30/2015 | 11:58:14 AM
Re: Analytics - Cable's Future The irony is that the parties most resistant to change are the content conglomerates that are now seeing some real revenue erosion from per-subscriber fees that they exact from video service providers. ABC/Disney/ESPN is the prime example here. ESPN is now scrambling to cut costs in the face of declining per-sub revenues.
csmenier 9/30/2015 | 11:34:56 AM
Re: Analytics - Cable's Future Hi there -- more specifically the video cord...not only are cable operators still adding broadband subs, but now Comcast has more broadband subs than video subs...it has become their cornerstone product (and other operators alike). I agree, the bundle will remain, but the proportion of each service in that bundle if shifting. There is an app approach that the Operators could adopt (a la AppleTV, Roku, Chromecast, Amazon Firestick) that moves into gaming, shopping and even OTT parterships and resale. DISH recently jumped into this by adding Netflix to their STB interface (and even bundling the charges into the bill). X1, what Cox wants Contour to be, and Liberty's Horizon platform are uniquely positioned for this path.

But that's the fun of this...Operators are finally starting to change things up, take some risks, try what-might-be-uncomfortable partnerships in order to stay relevant.

mendyk 9/30/2015 | 11:12:10 AM
Re: Analytics - Cable's Future Hi, Chris -- I'd say it's not that the cord is being cut -- broadband uptake is still growing -- but the services that are running over that cord are changing. Despite that and for the foreseeable future, most revenue will come from conventional video services (aka the bundle). The challenge for CSPs is to figure out how to meet demand for new services while keeping conventional offerings profitable.
csmenier 9/30/2015 | 9:51:24 AM
Re: Analytics - Cable's Future I believe you're right...the customer will win! Operators are finally admitting that the world is shifting under their feet and the days of denying cord-cutting are over.

Focus on the network remains key (shift to IP video, fiber-deep), and Operators need to continue to diversify their offerings to stay relevant. It's not just about faster internet speeds and home security, but rather needs to be about owning the in-home experience...and allowing nomadic subscribers to take that experience with them (including video).

How many will adopt remains to be seen, but players like Liberty and Altice entering the US market will surely shake up the norm, and Comcast continues to invest heavily.

Thanks for your comment!
DHagar 9/29/2015 | 7:49:42 PM
Re: Analytics - Cable's Future Chris, excellent vision for a viable future for Cable.  It almost seems, however, that their role and capabilities are dissolving into the networking space.  I am wondering how many will be able to adopt the new business model?

Either way, the customer will win!
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