C Spire announced the launch of C Spire TV, the operator's streaming TV service yesterday. Describing it as "game-changing," the operator said the service eliminates the need for set-top boxes, replacing them with an app that runs on a range of streaming platforms including Amazon Fire TV, Android TV and Apple TV. A Roku-compatible version is also expected to be available shortly.
C Spire is the largest privately held wireless operator in the US. It also offers a triple-play bundle over an FTTH network, including 1Gbit/s downstream connections under the C Spire Home brand. The operator has more than 1 million subscribers spread across Mississippi, Tennessee, Florida and Alabama.
The operator has been testing the service for several months and had previously discussed its reasons for going this route. C Spire TV is built on the newly launched MobiTV Connect Platform, designed for operators who want to deliver TV services to popular Internet-connected devices rather than a dedicated set-top box. According to the operator, it also allows for new interfaces and apps to be deployed by the operator and switches C Spire's video delivery from QAM to IP, thereby making it easier to integrate multiple video services.
The service primarily targets younger viewers, who are more keen to have a multi-device video offering, and reduces the monthly cost of STB rental for households, according to the operator. It's also very on-demand focused, with subscribers able to use the Replay TV feature to watch a broad selection of content that aired over the past three days. The service also offers DVR capability and a number of HD channels without a premium.
A major driver for the operator was to improve the search and navigation experience, according to a previous interview with Jared Baumann, manager, market development and deployment at C Spire. (See C Spire's Baumann Analyzes Its New IP-Video Service.)
He said that the operator sometimes receives complaints about C Spire "not having shows customers want, but those shows are actually available on our service, they just can't find them."
The new interface offers the ability to cross-search all C Spire services in VoD, live TV, DVR and other apps, as well as Netflix-like recommendation engines.
"The interface overall is very slick, does a great job of merging those two worlds [OTT and pay-TV]. It automatically combines all options to view, content is much more available and customers are more able to get the content they want," according to Baumann.
This approach also helps on other fronts. It reduces the number of installs and their complexity, and allows C Spire to leverage highly advanced devices without having to carry the burden of developing them -- a difficult task for operators that aren't of the scale of a Comcast or AT&T, according to Baumann.
"Basically, we wanted them to choose what they wanted, and just provide a service to them. We become an app on their device, and they could bring their own device," said Baumann. "The truth is no one likes STBs. Customers don't like them, we don't like them."
It's not a skinny bundle though, at a starting price of $65 per month. That gets subscribers more than 100 channels, with the option to add on more channels in incremental tiers of $10-20 per month. The service also comes with one stream and 50 hours of cloud DVR. To add additional streams to additional devices and more recording time, you would need to purchase them in increments of $5.
It's not an OTT service either. While it is an IP-streaming service, it's delivered over C Spire's network, so the operator has control over the viewer's QoE.
C Spire also believes that the TV business is in transition, with viewers shifting to streaming services. "Ultimately, traditional TV can't last", says Baumann. "It has to evolve, start to fit into the way in which people want to watch video. That's the big advantage of this approach -- we can go OTT if we want to, it's an easy switch for us in the future."
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation