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Can Pay TV operators aggregate the ever-expanding content landscape?

Ivan Verbesselt, NAGRA
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The way consumers watched content used to be much simpler.

This was because, behind the scenes, distribution platforms and consumer-facing services were inextricably linked. Pay TV subscribers received a bill from the distribution platform in the post every month, and that took care of all their content.

Your service meanwhile gave you an EPG of channels. And in some ‘advanced’ cases, that came with the added option to record programmes on the STB.

Appointment viewing on the big screen TV set was the norm – simpler times, indeed!

Naturally, this couldn’t last forever.

As we know, the rise of on-demand OTT services like Netflix and Amazon, available on a myriad of screens, has transformed the landscape immeasurably.

In addition, social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook, as well as their Asian siblings, are becoming extra sources of original content.

Now, given that this is all the result of shifting consumer habits, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the holy grail of content has arrived and everything is perfect.

Just look at the research – consumers increasingly love creating their own bundles. NAGRA and Ampere identified that “Content Connoisseurs”, the most valuable and fastest-growing consumer type, want to assemble their own a-la-carte bundles and expect high-quality experiences across devices.

But a high-quality experience isn’t always what consumers get.

In fact, what we’re left with is a bit of a strange predicament.

On the one hand we’re living in a golden age of content where the choice is, for all intents and purposes, endless – whether you love catching the latest high-budget Hollywood blockbusters in 4K UHD or bingeing on gritty Scandinavian crime dramas.

But on the other hand, increased pressure on the user experience has meant it’s often difficult to access the content you want. The new Library of Babel is here, but it’s proving impossible to create a map that truly helps you navigate it.

To reach the show you want to watch, you have to take on a maze of menus across multiple apps and services.

The new normal for many consumers has become owning multiple subscriptions, multiple remote controls, navigating across multiple platforms, and receiving multiple bills from different sources at the end of the month.

Inevitably there is a tipping point of too much fragmentation for the consumer. There has to be a re-bundling at some point.

The question for operators, then, is: how do you re-aggregate effectively with a good quality experience? How do you ensure consumers gain access to all the content they want without the frustrating fragmentation and higher cost?

To be a successful aggregator, a platform has to meet some key criteria.

It should be consumer-facing, have a large user base, and be primarily a content distributor rather than producer (it’s less likely that a company that produces large amounts of its own content will aggregate and actively promote rival content against its own).

You may also be more likely to see paid content aggregation on platforms operated by Pay TV service providers, as opposed to ad-based social media networks, given the latter don’t have billing relationships with their users.

But competition will be fierce. Amazon, for example, makes an interesting candidate as an aggregator, particularly in markets in which its Prime service operates.

The key thing to bear in mind for operators, of course, is differentiation through the user experience.

Users need to be able to switch between multiple content sources and services effortlessly with a simple, uncluttered and engaging interface that doesn’t overwhelm them with options. At the same time, UIs also need to create a bridge between content silos; searching for one particular piece of content should not entail accessing multiple apps.

As the volume of content available continues to grow, Pay TV providers must deliver a great content discovery experience, using prediction and recommendation techniques that consumers find convenient and acceptable.

All in all, Pay TV providers have a great opportunity to play a key role in aggregating OTT services. They can become a central gateway to all content that consumers have access to, across all screens.

In this new golden age of content, Pay TV operators potentially hold the map to this vast new content library – they have the chance to become the virtual shopping malls of the digital content world.

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