Home Analysis Deutsche Telekom presents its vision for long-term Pay TV operator success

Deutsche Telekom presents its vision for long-term Pay TV operator success

Deutsche Telekom has been outlining the value-adds that will ensure the future success of Pay TV operators in a world where content giants can go direct-to-consumer and Smart TV makers are aggregating more television in increasingly compelling UIs. Unbreakable service delivery, super-aggregation, multi-app subscription management and exceptional holistic content discovery are key pillars. This vision can only be achieved using a set-top box today, and one day a virtual STB on third-party Smart TVs or DT’s own version of Sky Glass. Being just another Smart TV app among apps is not a long-term option for big screen delivery.

Pedro Bandeira of Deutsche Telekom, speaking at Connected TV World Summit 2023
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Deutsche Telekom has presented its vision for the future of Pay TV and how it remains a viable business in an environment where content owners like Disney and Discovery can go direct-to-consumer (removing traditional Pay TV exclusivity) and where Smart TV makers offer increasingly compelling user experiences and similar streaming apps – with the advantage that because they own the screen, their UI can be seen first. Speaking at Connected TV World Summit this spring, Pedro Bandeira, Vice President Product and New Business, Europe at DT, outlined his pillars for success: deliver an unbreakable service combined with super-aggregation, multiple apps subscription management (“smart aggregation”) and exceptional (and holistic) content discovery.

He then made it clear that while the set-top box is the essential device for supporting these aims today, Deutsche Telekom will have to take a position directly on the glass [television set] itself, eventually, with less reliance on HDMI inputs. The company will have to enable a virtual STB scenario in collaboration with Smart TV makers – meaning an operator app replaces the STB, and this app is the default content and UI experience that someone sees when turning on their Smart TV (if that home is a customer of the Pay TV provider). If this cannot be achieved, DT will need to follow Sky’s example and launch their own Smart TVs.

Throughout his presentation, Bandeira spoke on behalf of Deutsche Telekom, outlining its plan and thinking. But this felt like his vision for an industry, too. His belief that a Pay TV provider must be present directly on the television glass chimes with the philosophy at Sky, which has already taken matters into its own hands with the revolutionary Sky Glass (a Sky OS/UX embedded into a private-labelled Smart TV designed and retailed by Sky). But where Sky moved directly to ‘building’ its own televisions, Bandeira made it clear that DT wanted to avoid this if, possible, and would first seek the Smart TV partnerships that would support the virtual STB model.

Bandeira began by outlining the challenges a Pay TV provider like Deutsche Telekom faces. “We are still in the middle of a transformation cycle that involves a shift from linear to non-linear consumption and also a very important change from service provider centric to content centric. Content brands that used to have us in the middle, as a broker, try to go direct-to-consumer to deliver their services.

“This is a fundamental change and something operators must be aware of as we prepare our TV services for the future.”

He outlined one all-embracing principle and three pillars that will underpin the future of Pay TV. First, the principle: “We must deliver an unbreakable service with the best video and audio quality. We must do a lot of background work to support this.” Then he moved onto the pillars.

“First and foremost, aggregate, aggregate, aggregate – and when you are tired of aggregation, aggregate some more! We must have the content [that consumers want] available. This is fundamental – it is what differentiates us from the other guys who do not have that content.” He added that content is king, and today some popular content may be hosted by one streaming service, and tomorrow it could move to another. It is the Pay TV provider’s responsibility to keep track and provide the access.

“Then you need to aggregate the subscriptions, enabling ‘subscribe’ and ‘unsubscribe’ [for the multiple subscription streaming apps that are onboarded as part of the super-aggregator role]. It is one thing to have the apps [the streaming content services, within your UX] but lots of people have them, so what is your real value, because over time that [having the apps] will not be enough. You need to put smartness into your aggregation.

“In the same way that someone can subscribe [to an app] in one click, they should be able to unsubscribe in one click directly on your TV service. It is very important that we give simplicity to consumers with one single billing relationship. We should be the main touchpoint with consumers who want to take those services. We are the middleman, so we must take ownership of this position.”

Bandeira’s third pillar is content-centric discovery. “This is where we can make a huge difference. Discovery should be independent of who is delivering the content. The consumer should not have to think about where the shows are that they want to consume, whether they are in Netflix, Disney or Amazon, and they might not know, anyway, but we have the answer for that.”

He pointed out that Deutsche Telekom’s focus on content aggregation, discovery and personalisation in the UI is not unique, and acknowledged that the quality of execution is key. “We do the fine-tuning based on the data, what is working and what is not working, and that is very important,” he pointed out.

Bandeira highlighted how Deutsche Telekom’s customer premise equipment strategy must align with these requirements, which led to the conclusion that the set-top box is still essential, for now. “The STB is the only place today where we can fully deliver on our vision for super-aggregation and a seamless subscribe/unsubscribe experience. I can’t do this on a third-party device. So, the STB is still central to our strategy today, but it can become less fundamental.”

The typical Pay TV operator app on a Smart TV, as seen today, is not part of the long-term CPE strategy, Bandeira revealed. “We are not happy to be just an app on an interface; I don’t want to be just an app.” He acknowledged that Deutsche Telekom’s Pay TV service (MagentaTV) is available on Smart TVs as an app, of course. [It is available on all Tizen OS Samsung Smart TVs since 2017, Sony Smart TVs running Android TV since 2015 and on all Android TV Smart TVs running Android 7, 8 and 9.] “But I am not happy to continue in this way in the future, as just an app on a Smart TV.

“If I am just an app on a Smart TV, then over time I will lose engagement with consumers because they will spend less time with me on my experience and more time with all the other apps that are available in the same UI. I can only replace the STB if I can replicate the STB experience without one, and that means I have to be the main app on the [Smart TV] ecosystem, where I contain the other apps [e.g. Netflix, Discovery, local broadcasters] in my app, as seen in my STB.”

Bandeira continued: “Being the aggregator that manages the subscribe and unsubscribe [across multiple third-party apps] is also fundamental, but this is very difficult if you are just one of the apps in the ecosystem. You have to control the experience, like you do today on the STB.”

This brought the Deutsche Telekom executive to his future CPE roadmap, because he made it clear that despite these reservations, his company does want to look beyond STBs. “Aggregating directly on the TV panel, without an STB, is the Holy Grail, and we need to do this. UIs in Smart TVs are becoming better and better. As an industry, we had a head-start on Smart TV makers, but they are catching up, and some UIs are becoming really good.

“These [Smart TV] guys are becoming our competitors with regards to aggregation, and they are well placed for this role because they have the [television] display in the customer home.”

So, how do you work around this, Bandeira asked the audience before answering for them. “We are working on two possible paths simultaneously, A and B. Either we will be successful with A, or we move to B,” he told the Connected TV World Summit audience.

“Path A is where you can broker a deal with TV providers in which you become the [primary] app. When someone buys the television, it asks if they are a Deutsche Telekom customer or if they take their Pay TV service from named competitors. If you are a Deutsche Telekom customer, you then get the Deutsche Telekom experience. We become the [primary TV] app. This is the path we would like to follow because doing [making, private-labelling, retailing] TVs is not our core business.

“But, if we are not successful on this path, we might need to go the other route, and ‘do’ televisions, in a similar way to Sky [with Sky Glass]. That is the only way you can continue to be relevant [as a Pay TV operator] in that case [where virtual STB on third-party branded Smart TVs is ruled out].”

Finally, Bandeira declared that Deutsche Telekom’s vision to be the super-aggregator and the subscriptions manager, as well as the primary content discovery agent, should not be limited to the STB today and the Smart TV (virtual STB or ‘DT Glass’) in the future. He is interested in mirroring this Pay TV role across multi-screen devices too, which requires a promotion for the classic operator TV Everywhere mobile/laptop app.

Noting that multiscreen devices are especially important to younger generations, he asked: “Why not apply the same vision to the smartphone or tablet, with an app that aggregates other apps? Of course, you can’t be the super-app on ecosystems that Google and Apple control, but you can still recreate the concept of an app that can aggregate other content apps and provide [unified] discovery and subscriptions [management]. That will give you service continuity between the experience you offer on a TV set and the experience you offer on these other touchpoints. This is a clear part of our vision.”

The DT executive concluded: “Our vision [for the role of Pay TV operators in future and the CPE that underpins it] puts us on a long path, and one we started a long time ago, but it is fundamental to the sustainability [economic] of the TV business, because we feel the TV ecosystem is going to become more and more challenged unless we do this. There is risk, but there is opportunity to capitalise by doing things that others cannot.”

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