Adrian Jezina, CEO of Croatian cable operator B.net (now part of Telekom Austria), on the role that multi-screen video services will play in his company’s future strategy, and the content agreements needed to make that happen.
What steps has B.net taken to build a compelling triple-play strategy for the Croatian market?
B.net was among the first operators to enter the triple-play market in Croatia, and we can definitely say that we were the first with a really compelling offer in the market.
At a time when services in the fixed network were still being liberalised and the incumbent was doing anything they could to gain more advantage in new markets such as IPTV, we have relied upon our own cable network to offer a full triple-play service.
What this meant for our users was that triple-play was offered as a fully integrated service for the first time, resulting in significant savings of up to 30 percent for our users when compared to buying each of the services on their own, but it also changed users’ expectations in terms of customer support and billing. Single point of contact and a single bill for all services were quite new in the Croatian market at the time.
Above all, having our own infrastructure meant that we were able to offer higher broadband speeds, flat rates and unlimited calls in many cases, all of which were quite innovative in the market at the time.
Flat rate broadband and unlimited calls to the national fixed network meant that our users were able – for the first time in the Croatian market – to exactly find out and know how much they were going to spend on their communications costs. No surprises, no hidden costs or additional charges.
How have market needs evolved in the past year?
Initially, users wanted to see more channels and have higher access speeds, but now that we have close to 200 channels on offer and broadband speeds are high enough for all of the services, the focus has shifted to the quality of services offered and value-added services.
Additional value-added services have thus become very important to the further development of our platform. The market has demanded services such as VOD, PVR, and such, and users are increasingly aware of what they exactly want in addition to pure triple-play services.
They are aware of the differences between operators and technologies, and often use social media to discuss what is on offer in the market. Even though most operators now offer a full set of triple-play services, we still believe that we are extremely well positioned in the market due to our experience with content distribution and delivery.
Having come from the cable market, we know how the global content market works and we can use this as our strategic advantage because customers will, for example, compare which channels are on offer.
Some of the operators have tried to win particular customers by offering exclusive channels in their packages, such as sports, but we have always been quick with similar offers and have not lost customers.
What role do mobile devices have in your roadmap?
This convergence is important now and for our growth in the future, and will define a way in which a company like B.net can further develop its presence in the market.
It is, in fact, so important that Vipnet, the second leading mobile operator in Croatia, acquired B.net last year and will help it to grow in the mobile space as well. Customers will want to enjoy their content while on the move even more, and our mobile devices have become true digital media hubs.
We now have our first OTT (over-the-top) service on offer that enables our users to watch selected channels on web, Android and iOS devices, and we will be putting even more focus on extending our services to the mobile space in our new environment, as part of the Telekom Austria Group.
I believe that the way forward is to offer multi-screen services to our customers, which means that they can enjoy their content regardless of the devices they use, and mobile is clearly very important.
During the past year or two, we have also launched several mobile applications besides the OTT service, and even our customer magazine is now published in the digital format with the special iPad edition as well.
So, good mobility with regards to voice, data and TV or multimedia services, with all of them combined, is where we want to be.
What challenges do you expect to arise as this progresses?
More stress will be put on mobile networks and their capacities. Some mobile operators might not be willing to let their networks be used for OTT services more heavily and will perhaps be considering setting up different charging models if services such as these are used on their networks.
Mobile operators will have to adapt to new market environments, while both them and the OTT providers will have to work together on establishing new relationships.
These are complementary services and will have to work together for the benefit of their users. Some business models might have to change and adapt, but this is necessary for the industry to move forwards.
We will also have to work more with the content providers to reach agreements that would enable us to offer more programming via our mobile platform, because the choice is still limited. Above all, mobile services will have to go “hand in hand” with our triple-play offer in a way that they should offer most of the same services, if not all of them.
For example, PVR and VOD content that the user expects to have access to should be available on both platforms. These are still early days in terms of market acceptance of mobile TV services, but I believe they will become more important and even crucial as users migrate more and more to smart mobile platforms and their expectations grow higher as well.