Sweden’s Com Hem is a trailblazing provider of Triple Play, and in this engrossing, in-depth interview IP&TV catches up with their Chief Product Officer Asanga Guntillaka, to discuss TiVo, OTT, multiplatform and more.
IP&TV News: How have Com Hem transformed its TV offerings in Sweden in recent years?
Asanga Guntillaka: Our TV solutions have in recent years evolved towards offering PVR and On Demand-services. Household PVR penetration in Sweden has up to this point been low compared to, for example, the UK. This can be interpreted as neither Com Hem nor our competitors until recently have come up with solutions which are attractive or relevant enough to customers. The TV customer of today has strong demands around flexibility and mobility; they want to watch whatever they want, whenever they want and on any device. Now things have changed with our latest advanced TV offering.
Com Hem is now offering TiVo. What was the reason for this and what have the response been like?
For consumers, there have never been more ways to watch content – and actually, the consumption of TV content is at an all-time high in Sweden… however the consumption takes place on many different platforms and both live and in timeshifted forms. What we noticed in research and customer focus groups prior to launching TiVo, is that many consumers feel confused and overwhelmed by all the choices out there. There is a lot to keep track of – what program is on which service, and what is my user login for that specific service? Com Hem is already an aggregator – but the time for being an aggregator of just linear channels has well passed. Today there is so much more content other than channels – OTT-services, play-channels, movie rentals. Our goal with TiVo is really to be a super aggregator – to take all that content and make it available and searchable, to the customer all in one place, but through many different devices. That is why we’ve launched TiVo.
All in all I’d say the initial response is good, and I’m confident it will get even better as we are getting more and more TiVo-boxes out there. It’s interesting because the response to date has come from two very opposite standpoints. On one hand you have the customers who have TiVo who say they love the service. I’ve actually never heard the word “love” in connection to a Com Hem TV service before, but with TiVo it’s happening. On the other you have a few tech journalists who haven’t been impressed. They typically have left so called “traditional TV” for other solutions. And of course there are solutions out there for people who want to put the effort and time in building their own TV-service. But in my view these do not represent the majority. Not because it’s not possible to get sufficient content this way – but because most people, quite frankly, won’t bother and they need a simple way to access great content, without necessarily needing to hop between multiple services and technology.
What are the main challenges the integration of OTT and multiplatform offerings have presented Com Hem?
Until we launched TiVo, the main challenge has been us not having a service to really match the flexibility of OTT. We haven’t historically been able to deliver TV on any other device than the TV itself, whilst in the broader market, customers had developed behaviours that were more and more multiscreen. And in Sweden, the growth in OTT-subscriptions has been rapid during the last year and today numbers a little more than 500,000. This is why it is absolutely essential for a perceived “traditional” TV-supplier like Com Hem, the country’s biggest pay-TV operator, to come up with a service which can compete for the customers on other platforms beyond just the TV screen. We have put a lot of effort into developing a digital-TV service of tomorrow, but available today. Our app TiVoToGo is, 2 months after its launch, the streaming service in Sweden that delivers the most channels with a lineup approaching parity with the main TV experience. TiVoToGo is a very important part of our launch and probably most important within the younger age groups.
Do you see a future in which STB services are entirely virtualised? If so, when? And if not, why not?
Sure they will be, for certain. It’s hard to say exactly when, it is down to being able to provide an equivalent (or better) service and end user experience than today (“Swiss cheese” in terms of content won’t work as an offering). Having a STB right now is about offering all the functionality to customers and the most flexibility to watch content; the possibility to store 1Tb of programming, to record three shows at a time etc; that currently still requires a box. Add to this the question of content rights – from which perspective not all content can be provided today through the cloud. So we are on a path to virtualisation.
You’ll be speaking at TV Connect 2014. What changes and trends in connected entertainment do Com Hem anticipate coming to the fore in 2014?
It is an exciting time – for sure. Many different actors are now competing for the customer – the competition has never been more fierce. The TV-market is in a period of extreme change and we have seen many new players enter the market during the last few years. I think 2014 will be the year when traditional operators have to prove themselves – will they or will they not have a TV-service that accommodates today’s consumer needs? Operators who won’t embrace change will have a hard time. Com Hem however, I think is on the right path and I am excited about what we will offer our customers going forward.
Asanga will be appearing at TV Connect 2014, 18-20th March. For booking and more info go here.