Third-parties are next battleground in video streaming war

Securing a partnership with the likes of Netflix and Amazon might be the golden-ticket for the telcos, but no-one should forget they have as much negotiating power as the OTTs.

For the telcos, convergence is an oasis of profit in the barren desert of the connectivity industry. As traditional means of generating cash are either destroyed (SMS and voice tariffs) or increasingly squeezed (CAPEX investments for 5G), many telcos are searching for differentiation to charge more and prove they can add value beyond the utilitised connectivity column. Content is a very popular route for many to take.

Aside from attempting to create content platforms, more telcos are seeking third-party relationships to move into the aggregator business model. This is a very sensible approach to business, the telcos can add a lot of value to the OTTs and securing a partnership with one of the more prominent streaming players is a key cog to their own ambitions. However, despite the desperation of the telcos, they should consider themselves on equal terms to the OTTs.

“Every telco is fighting to become an aggregator, but there is also a battle between the streaming OTTs to gain visibility,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight.

As Pescatore notes, outside of the two major players in the streaming world (Amazon Prime and Netflix), achieving visibility and scale can be very difficult. This is and will continue to be an incredibly congested field, therefore the relationship between telcos and OTTs could add an edge for any challenger.

Looking at the growth opportunities for the OTTs, there is plenty of cheddar left on the table, though in the developed markets, there are only crumbs left. Take the US for example, here Netflix subscriber growth has slowed, suggesting the glass ceiling for direct customer acquisition has been reached, or will be in the near future. The question is how these final customers can be engaged? Third-party relationships are key here.

At IBC last year, Maria Ferreras, VP of EMEA Business Development at Netflix highlighted that partnerships with telcos were an important cog as the streaming giant continues to evolve. At the time, the discussion was primarily from a billing relationship, though there are plenty of other opportunities.

Partners with their own content platform offer Netflix and Amazon something incredibly important; real-estate. Whoever can secure the most prominent position on the content platform will gain additional visibility and engagement with customers. It is evidence the OTTs are buying into the convergence strategies employed by the telcos, but also the value of the telco relationship with the customer.

Looking around the world, these partnerships are becoming much more common. Netflix has been embedded in the Sky platform in the UK, while Amazon Prime has been integrated into the Virgin Media platform. Mexico’s Totalplay has become the first operator in LATAM to add Amazon Prime to its TV service, while Vodafone Spain has secured partnerships with Netflix, HBO Spain and Amazon Prime.

There are of course numerous ways in which these partnerships can develop. Some are simply billing relationships, allowing the streaming service to be added onto the monthly bill, while some can have the OTT experience embedded into the content platform offered by the partner. What is clear, however, is this is an arms race from the OTTs.

The more partnerships which are in place, the more opportunity there is to engage potential customers and increase subscriptions. These partnerships are not only about securing visibility or accessing billing systems, but also leaning on another brands credibility to engage customers who wouldn’t have been previously accessible.

Interestingly enough, there aren’t many telcos or content providers who have relationships with more than one of the streaming giants. This might be a coincidence, or there might well be a desire from the OTTs to secure exclusivity through the platform of choice, even if it is not made official or public.

The challenge which many will face is going toe-to-toe with Amazon and Netflix. If these partners are securing the best relationships with the telcos, they will gain the most eyeballs on their services. Disney is company which will certainly want to lean on relationships with third-parties, but it will have to move sharpish to ensure it is not shut out.

Although Disney is one of the most prominent brands on the planet, it is almost unknown in the content world. This will present a challenge in two ways. Firstly, cutting through the background noise to educate the user on its offering, and secondly, the billing relationship.

For both of these challenges, third-party relationships with telcos and content platform owners can help. A direct line of communication is already in place, visibility can be offered through apps, billing relationships already exist, and third-parties are looking for partners to help build bundling options.

If Disney is going to be successful in its pursuit of streaming fortunes, it will need more than engaging content. It already has the content, and the ambitions for original content creation do look promising. The challenges will be in terms of securing visibility and credibility in the eyes of the consumer.

Telcos should realise sooner rather than later that they are an equal partner to the OTTs in this context, as they are just as desperate to secure favourable partnerships as the telcos. This is the next battleground in the streaming race; partners mean prizes.

Convergence may well pay off for Virgin Media

It might not be setting the world on fire, but Virgin Media is proving the slow, steady approach to business is certainly worth paying attention to.

On the financial side of the business, total revenues grew marginally by 0.4% to £1.279 billion for the second quarter. Broadband customer acquisitions bolstered the financials, though these gains were mainly offset by customer losses in TV and mobile. This doesn’t seem to be the most attractive of statements, though the management team doesn’t seem to be worried as the convergence mentality becomes more prominent.

“Our disciplined and balanced approach to customer acquisition and capital expenditure has seen a return to growth in our sector-leading cable ARPU and strong free cash flow generation,” said Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media.

“Underpinning this is the continued success of our network expansion, new initiatives to improve sales and customer service and our fixed-mobile Oomph bundles which have already seen a doubling of customers attaching a mobile SIM to their package with meaningfully higher ARPU.”

An important aspect to always consider when discussing convergence is the incremental nature; this is a strategy which casts an eye to the horizon. Quarter-on-quarter you might not see the benefits, but in a few years’ time, a few will look back and wonder how they got by without such a considered approach to customer management, acquisition and retention.

Looking at the business objectives, there are four strategic pillars; converged customer contracts, increased sales efficiencies, improvement in base management and digital transformation. None of these strategies are a silver-bullet to find the next billion, but this is looking like a business which is in a healthy position, posed for growth in the next era of connectivity.

In the broadband business, Protect Lightning (the fibre buildout programme) now passes 1.8 million premises throughout the UK. Subscriptions increased by 5,000 across the period, taking the total to 14.7 million. Video cable subscriptions are down, though with a new bundle offering launched focused on sport, this could be an interesting area of growth for the business.

Over the next couple of weeks, we strongly suspect there will be an aggressive advertising campaign to glorify the benefits of Virgin Media’s TV subscriptions. Bundling together Sky Sports, BT Sport and Amazon (separate subscription) into a single aggregated content platform might be attractive to numerous sports fans, and at a cheaper price than competitors, it has the potential to cause disruption.

This has been a pain-point for Virgin Media for the last few years. Speaking from experience, your correspondent can detail the inadequacies of the TV package, though industry analysts are increasingly confident this new approach from Virgin Media is much more comprehensive. The management team are also putting a brave face on the loss of TV subscriptions, suggesting the strategy is to move away from entry-level customers, focusing on higher-end, higher-value targets.

These are two of the convergence prongs at Virgin Media, with mobile being the final. This is another area where subscriptions declined, primarily pre-paid, though as Virgin Media is currently an ‘also-ran’ in the mobile segment there is significant room for growth if the proposition is fairly priced in.

Working with EE/BT, the opportunity is certainly there to create an effective mobile proposition. EE/BT regularly has the highest rated network in terms of overall performance, though perhaps Virgin Media’s ability to offer 5G tariffs will play a notable role here. We’re not too sure what the agreement is between the two parties, though should it be able to offer 5G services over the EE/BT network sooner rather than later, the convergence strategy may well receive a boost.

Looking at the benefits of convergence, many point to higher ARPU, though perhaps the more significant, longer-term advantage is customer retention. Virgin Media experienced 15% customer churn at the end of 12-month contracts, though many accept churn rates decrease for converged customers. Considering the cost of acquiring new customers in a saturated market like the UK, anything which can be done to improve retention is a massive bonus.

In terms of convergence, the number of fixed-mobile converged customers has improved to 19.9%, as the proportion of new customers taking mobile with cable services doubled post launch. We have asked for more details on the number of converged customers as a percentage of the total, churn rates in comparison between the two and differences in ARPU, and at the time of writing Virgin Media is yet to respond.

We suspect the numbers will be positive, though nothing that will stop the world from spinning. That said, that is not a bad thing. Convergence is about incremental gain, the slow and steady approach to business improvement.

Convergence is about setting goals a few years in the future, it’s a gradual gander forward. You might not see the benefits, but looking back, you’ll wonder how you operated without such a considered approach to business. Virgin Media is looking like it is in a healthy position.

Unlimited data is inevitable with 5G, but try telling operators that

We’re quickly moving into the 5G era and many assume the concept of unlimited data bundles will be commonplace, but how will the telcos fare in this new world?

As it stands, the telcos are under pressure. This is not to say they are not profitable, but many shareholders will question whether they are profitable enough. Tight margins and a squeeze on core revenue streams are common enough phrases when describing telco balance sheets, but this could get a lot worse when you factor in unlimited data packages.

As Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight pointed out, when you offer unlimited data you are effectively killing off any prospect of revenue growth per subscriber in the future. In some markets, there are still fortunes to be made, but in some, such as the UK where 4G subscription penetration is north of 100%, where are you going to make the growth revenues from when consumers are demanding more for less?

More consumers are seeking unlimited or higher data allocations but are not willing to pay for the experience. Some MNOs might be able to resist, but the more rivals who offer such tariffs the more the rest will be forced into line. It’s the race to the bottom which is profitable in the short-term, but growth will end quickly. The price per GB is only heading one direction and unlimited data allocations will end the prospect of upgrading customers.

O2 fighting for air

This is the conundrum which the telcos are facing in the UK right now. All four have announced their 5G intentions and all four are promising big gains when it comes to the next era of connectivity.

Starting with O2, the only one of the four MNOs not to have released 5G pricing to date, this is a telco which looks to be in the most uncomfortable position. Over the last few quarters, the management team has boasted of increased subscriber numbers, but this can only go on for so long in the consumer world. Soon enough, a glass ceiling will be met and then the team will have to search for new revenues elsewhere.

This is of course assuming it plans to go down the route of unlimited data, it might want to stick with the status quo. That said, if everyone else does, it will not be able to fight against the tide for fear of entering the realm of irrelevance.

The issue here is one of differentiation. The idea of attracting new customers by offering ‘bigger, meaner, faster’ data packages will soon end and telcos will have to talk about something else. O2 does have its Priority loyalty programme, but with rivals launching their own version this USP will fade into the noise.

Differentiation and convergence are two words which have been thrown around a lot over the last few years, though O2 has thus far resisted. Last year, CEO Mark Evans suggested he was not bought into the convergence trend and would continue as a mobile-only telco, though this opinion does seem to be softening.

If O2 is going to be competitive in the almost inevitable era of unlimited data, it will have to source growth revenues from somewhere. It is making a push into the enterprise connectivity world, which will bring new profits to the spreadsheets, though does it want its consumer mobile business to stand still?

Bundles of fun

This is where the other telcos in the UK have perhaps got more of a running start in the 5G era. EE has its connectivity assets in broadband and wifi to add value, as well as a content business of some description. Three is already known as the data-intensive brand, while its FWA push will take it into some interesting connectivity bundling options. Vodafone also has FWA, a fibre partnership with CityFibre and is arguably the leader in the enterprise connectivity market. The rivals are offering more than mobile connectivity as a stand-alone product.

Looking at Vodafone to begin with, the recent announcement is certainly an interesting one. The innovative approach to pricing, tiering tariffs on speeds not data allocation, will attract some headlines, while it is also super-charging its own loyalty programme, VeryMe. It has secured content partnerships with the likes of Sky, Amazon, Spotify and gaming company Hatch, while its FWA offering also includes a free Amazon Alexa for those who sign-up early enough.

Combining the FWA product or its fibre broadband service, courtesy of CityFibre, also gives them the ‘connectivity everywhere’ tag, a strength of BTs in recent years, to allow them to communicate and sell to customers in a different way. Perhaps it is missing a content play to complete the convergence bundle, but it is in a strong position to tackle the 5G world and seek additional revenues should the unlimited craze catch.

The same story could be said of Three. With the acquisition of UK Broadband, it has forced itself into the convergence game and kicked off the ‘race to the bottom’ with an unlimited 5G data offer. As long as you have a Three 4G contract, you can get 5G for no additional cost, assuming you have a 5G compatible phone of course.

Three’s strength and weakness lies in its reputation. It is known for being the best telco if you have an insatiable data appetite, this works very well for the 5G era, though it is also known for having a poor network. Three regularly features at the bottom of the network performance rankings, especially outside of the big cities where it has not done nearly enough to satisfy demands.

This will of course change over the next couple of months. Three is working to improve its network with additional sites and a new Nokia 5G core, however it will have to do a lot to shake off the reputation is has acquired over the last few years.

EE is perhaps the most interesting of the four. It has lost its position as the market share leader when it comes to 4G subscriptions, but it does have the reputation for being the best in terms of performance throughout the country. It is regularly the fastest for download speeds, but its 5G pricing is by far the most expensive to be released so far.

That said, with the BT assets it has for wifi and broadband, as well as the content options, there is plenty for the consumer to be interested in. Should BT be forced to readdress the pricing conundrum, it might not have the fear regarding a glass ceiling on revenues as there are plenty of other products to engage the consumer. It will be able to find additional revenues elsewhere.

MVNO no you didn’t

Outside of the MNOs, you might also start to see some competition. MVNOs are nothing more than ‘also rans’ today, but Sky has officially entered the 5G race. This is an interesting competitor, one who could cause chaos to the status quo.

Firstly, understand mobile is not the primary business for Sky. This is an add-on, where it is seeking to drive additional revenues and attract more customers through bundled services. It is the leader in the UK when it comes to premium content and has a thriving broadband unit also. Sky can add services on top of connectivity to make itself seem more attractive than the traditional mobile service providers.

Then again, there are only a couple of MVNOs who can pose this challenge. Sky is one, while there are persistent rumours Amazon wants to get involved with the connectivity game and Google has its own Fi service. These are also companies who are at the mercy of the MNOs in terms of the commercial agreement with the MVNOs, so damage is likely to be limited unless one network owner decides to go down the wholesale infrastructure route.

But you cannot ignore these companies. They are cash-rich, constantly searching for new ways to make money and have incredible relationships with the consumer. They are also the owners of platforms and/or services which are very attractive to the mass market; bundling could be taken into a new context with these firms.

Diversity is our strength

This is of course only looking at the services which are common throughout telco diversification plans today, there are other options. Orange has launched a bank, has experimented in energy services and is making a move towards the smart home in partnership with Deutsche Telekom. Over in Asia, gaming is an important element of many telcos relationships with consumers and this trend is becoming much more prominent in the European markets also.

Elsewhere, the smart home could certainly offer more opportunities for telcos to add-value to an emerging ecosystem, while the autonomous vehicles offers another opportunity and so does IOT. The issue which many of these telcos are facing is competition from the OTTs. Arguably, the battle for control of the smart home might already have been won by the OTTs, though the same could be said for autonomous vehicles and IOT.

In many of the emerging segments, telcos will remain a connectivity partner though they certainly need more than that. This will remain a consistent stream of revenue, though it will also sleepwalk telcos to utilitisation. In IOT, as an example, the major cloud players are crafting business units to engage enterprise businesses for edge and IOT services; this is a market which the telcos would love to capitalise on for both enterprise and consumer services.

Security is another which is increasingly becoming a possibility. The concept of cybersecurity is generating more headlines and consumers are becoming more aware to the dangers of the digital world. Arguably, the telcos are in the strongest position to generate revenue from this segment; there is trust in the brand and they have largely avoided all the scandals which are driving the introduction of new regulation.

Unlimited data is certainly not commonplace today, but with the services of tomorrow promising to gobble up data at an unfathomable pace, it would surprise few to see more people migrating to these tariffs. The question is how you make money once you have migrated everyone.

Diversification and the acquisition of new products is not a simple task, but then again, it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine how single revenue stream telcos will be able to survive in the world of tomorrow.

 

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Sky becomes first MVNO to join the UK 5G race

Sky has become the first MVNO in the UK to join the 5G race, making use of the O2 network.

While Sky Mobile is little more than an ‘also-ran’ at the moment there could be some potential for the brand to cause headaches for the established players, both MNOs and MVNOs. As the leader in the UK premium content market and a healthy broadband business, there certainly are some gains to be made in terms of convergence.

“We will be the only mobile operator to be able to combine the launch of next generation superfast 5G connectivity with Sky Mobile’s unique features including Roll, Swap and Watch,” said Sophia Ahmad, Commercial Director of Sky Mobile.

All of Sky’s current data plans come with the Roll feature, allowing any unused data to be rolled into the next month, while Swap will allow any consumer to upgrade phones without changing contract. The Huawei Mate 20 5G X and Samsung Galaxy S10 5G will be available to customers in November, the target for the 5G launch.

“The mobile network operators need to watch out as this move poses a considerable threat,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight.

“It is becoming harder for telcos to differentiate on connectivity beyond price alone. Sky armed with its innovative mobile features and breath of content is very well placed to compete head on. For now, from an overall services perspective it seems to be in pole position.”

As we have mentioned before, the success of 5G will largely be reliant on the experience offered to customers as well as the price and value-add services. Relying on O2’s network to deliver its 5G offering might prove to be a weakness for Sky as the MNO has regularly featured at the bottom of rankings when it comes to customer experience.

Interestingly enough, this could create an entirely new dynamic in the connectivity segments.

Sky is not primarily a mobile business and never will be. Its mobile offering is an element of the wider convergence strategy to attract and retain customers, therefore profitability on connectivity is not the only concern. It will be a consideration for the management team, but lower margins can be accepted if there is a greater gain in the bigger convergence picture.

Traditional players have been trying to shift away from being overly reliant on mobile revenues for years, with some success stories but most of the time a maintenance of the status quo. As Sky profits are not primarily reliant on mobile a potential loss-leader position could be created to cause havoc and grow profitability in other business units as well as the overall Sky business.

With all four MNOs and now Sky to offer 5G services to consumers by the end of the year, the UK is set to become one of the most interesting markets to watch worldwide.

Telenor completes Nordic sweep with DNA acquisition

Norwegian telco Telenor has completed its reach across the Nordics, taking the first steps to acquire Finnish operator DNA.

Telenor has now officially entered into agreements with DNA’s two largest shareholders Finda Telecoms and PHP, who hold stakes of 28.3% and 25.8% respectively. Following approval at the Finda Telecoms and PHP AGMs, and regulatory approval, a mandatory public tender offer will be triggered for the remaining outstanding shares in DNA by Telenor. The current 54% will cost Telenor €1.5 billion.

The transaction is expected to be completed in Q3 2019, with the remaining shares being purchased for the same amount, valuing the entire DNA business at roughly €2.8 billion.

“I am very pleased to announce today’s transaction and our entry into Finland, the fastest growing mobile market in Europe,” said Telenor Group CEO Sigve Brekke.

“DNA is an exciting addition to Telenor Group, and a natural complement to our existing operations in the Nordic region. Not only are we strengthening our footprint in the Nordic region, we are also gaining a solid position across fixed and mobile in the Finnish market and making room for further value creation.”

DNA has been crafting itself a useful position in the Finnish market, with both fixed and mobile offerings. Having been founded in 2000, and restructured through various mergers in 2007, DNA has grown to become Finland’s third largest telco with a mobile market share of 28%. With Finland proving to be one of the fastest growing markets in Europe, this could be a useful acquisition from Telenor.

Having grown its mobile service revenues by at least 9.3% year-on-year for the last three years, Telenor expects to use its own expertise to grow revenues further through a larger product portfolio, though the enterprise market is also a target. On the business side of things, Telenor’s international footprint will certainly help, with operations across the Nordics.

The transaction will also offer Telenor more ammunition as it battles its Nordic competitor Telia,

Although Telenor still does have assets across various Asian markets, Pakistan and Thailand for example, it has been narrowing its focus on the Nordic markets recently. Exiting from India, although this was partly forced due to the success of Reliance Jio, while offloading its Eastern European business units will give the team more resources to dominate the Nordic region, though it will have to deal with Telia.

Should the transaction be approved by all the relevant parties, Telenor will have a presence in all the Nordic markets, pinning it head to head with long-time rival Telia. Aside from the Swedish market where Telia dominates, the pair are largely on level pegging, though the DNA business will add momentum.

Alongside considerable growth over the last three years, Finnish consumers have the biggest data appetites across the bloc. According to data from the OECD, the average Finnish mobile data subscription is a massive 15 GB per month which dwarfs the likes of the UK and France, where the average contract is 2.6 and 3.6 GB per month.

Three UK readies assault on broadband market

While its latest financials might not look mind-blowing, Three UK is steading the ship as it casts its eye towards the promised land of convergence and 5G.

Convergence is not really much of a buzzword anymore, such is the accepted nature of the model across the telco industry, though Three is seemingly readying itself for a broader push into broadband segment. The first job is to rebrand Relish, which will happen next month, and the next box to tick will be 5G.

“We are well set up for some transformational shifts in 2019 for our customers and our employees,” said Three UK CEO Dave Dyson. “It will be a year when our customers will start to see the real benefits of the next generation of 5G “mobile” technology, a technology that will not only replace 4G, but will also replace the need for wired broadband services.”

With the new ‘Three Broadband’ branding and a 5G network launching in H2, the Three marketers will have plenty to talk about when attempting to add to the 800,000 broadband customers it already has. In terms of the current state of play, Three said 10% of its current customer base is already ‘converged’ but 5G offers an opportunity to accelerate growth in the broadband business.

The team feels it has an advantage over rivals with its 5G holdings, offering superfast broadband connectivity which is not reliant on fibre. Whether UK consumers are swayed by the Fixed Wireless Access promise remains to be seen.

Looking at the position of the business, it would be fair to describe the last twelve months as healthy without being particularly good. This might not sound the most positive, but the raw materials are certainly in place for Three to make some very strong strides forward.

Total revenues over the last 12 months rose 1% to £2.4 billion, while total network connections reached 11.3 million. 99% of new customers were brought in through Three’s own sales channels, churn is down to 1.1% and net promoter score has reached a new high of +15. Three might not have torn up many trees last year, but the foundations of the business are very healthy.

Looking forward, the team is in the testing stages for its fully-virtualized 5G-ready cloud core network, while there are now 21 data centres live on the network. The business has also signed an agreement with SSE to improve mobile backhaul and 3G spectrum is being continuously re-farmed for 4G. All these initiatives will incrementally improve the customer experience.

“Three is fully embracing a business transformation to take maximum advantage of the opportunities digital businesses enjoy,” said Dyson. “2018 was the year when we set the foundations in place for us to jump up to the next level and become the UK’s best-loved brand by our people and customers, meeting all our customers’ connectivity needs.”

This kind of feels like a ‘calm before the storm’ scenario. Once the broadband rebrand is finished and 5G launched, we feel there will be some very aggressive moves from Three, staying true to its data-orientated roots but heavily integrated convergence messages on-top.

Orange Bank is on a roll

Cutting through the noise at Mobile World Congress is a tough job but Orange’s play for the financial industry is certainly a good attempt.

After a successful venture in the French market, Orange Bank CEO Paul De Leusse gave us a brief run-down of future plans for the business. Spain is on the horizon, as is Poland, while the African markets are going to be given some more love.

“The aim of Orange is to build banks in every country we operate as a telco,” said Leusse. “We want a bank which benefits from the telco and brings benefit to the telco.”

It’s a bold ambition for the business, though there certainly is strong progress being made. At the end of 2018, Orange Bank had 248,000 customers, only 40,000 of which were Orange employees, while the synergies between the telco and the bank are very apparent. 150 of the telcos branches now have banking sales people, each of which can open more than 12 accounts a month. Compared to a traditional banking representative opening three or four a month, the numbers are encouraging.

Looking at where the telco benefits the financial business, the facts are somewhat surprising. Using telco data, Leusse claims he can take out the 30% of customers who represent 80% of the credit risk, while the insight on risk is more reliable than the data from the Romanian credit bureau. And of course, the benefits head the other direction as well.

Those customers who have both a banking and telco relationship with Orange are 15% more satisfied, while churn has been decreased. The Polish business has seen a 18% churn reduction, while Orange Money customers in Africa are 40% less likely to. Orange is a massive believer in the convergence business model, but this is taking the idea to another level.

Interestingly enough, fortunes could be greater on the road, with the Spaniards the next to get the banking dream.

Leusse pointed out the in Spain there is no need for the sales staff to be certified by the financial regulator, perhaps suggesting there will be a larger retail footprint. The Spanish market is digitally more advanced than the French, with customers more readily embracing the new normality of the internet.

According to research quoted by Leusse, 77% of Spaniards suggest they would happily do without a banker, while the number is only 51% in France. 66% of Spanish customers would also be open to being advised by Djingo, the telcos digital assistant, while this number is only 50% in France. Launching a bank in Spain could be just as a promising opportunity as France, maybe even bigger.

T-Mobile US ditches streaming for aggregator TV play

After T-Mobile acquired Layer123 back in 2017, the US has been holding its breath for another Uncarrier move to disrupt the content world, but its not going to be as glitzy as some would have hoped.

Speaking on the latest earnings call, the management team indicated there will be a foray into the content world, but it appears to be leaning more onto the idea of aggregation than creation and ownership.

“It’s subscription palooza out there,” said COO Mike Sievert. “Every single media brand is, either has or is developing an OTT solution and most of these companies don’t have a way to bring these products to market. They’re learning about that. They don’t have distributed networks like us. They don’t have access to the phones like we have.

“And we think we can play a role for our customers as I’ve been saying in the past at bringing these worlds of media and the rest of your digital and social and mobile life together. Helping you choose the subscriptions that makes sense, building for those things, search and discovery of content. We think there’s a big role for our brand to play in helping you.”

The T-Mobile US management team might be antagonistic, aggressive and disruptive, but ultimately you have to remember they are very talented and resourceful businessmen. A content aggregation play leans on the strengths of a telco, allowing the business to add value to a booming industry instead of disrupting themselves culturally trying to steal business.

Content streaming platforms have been an immense successful not only because of our desire to consume content in a completely different way, but also due to the companies who are leading the disruption. The likes of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are agile, creative and risk-welcoming organizations. Such a disruption worked because the culture of these businesses enabled it. Telcos are not part of the same breed.

However, this is not a bad thing. The basic telco business model is connecting one party to another and this can be of benefit to the content segment. Telcos own an incredibly valuable relationship with the consumer as most people have an exclusive relationship with a communications provider (not considering the broadband/mobile split) and a single device for personal use. The telcos own the channel to the consumer.

Sitting on top of the content world, providing a single window and, potentially, innovative billing services and products could be immensely valuable to the OTTs, as well as securing diversification for the spreadsheets internally. The content aggregation model is one which is functional and operational, perfectly suited to the methodical and risk-adverse telcos.

Specifics of this Uncarrier move are still yet to emerge, but the T-Mobile US management team are promising to do something with the Layer123 acquisition sooner rather than later. It might not just look like what most had imagined initially.

AT&T just misplaced 267k DirecTV Now subs, but it’s OK

The AT&T earnings call was somewhat of a mixed bag of results, with gains on mobile but it somewhat irresponsibly managed to misplace 267,000 DirecTV Now subscribers; its ok says CEO.

Digging down into the numbers always tends to lead to many twists and turns, but the big one is DirecTV Now, the telcos attempt to blend into differentiation and get ahead of the cord cutting generation. This has not exactly been a rip-roaring success for the business so far but losing 267,000 subscribers in three months is a headline which will take some beating.

So where did they go? According to the business, they were basically just allowed to leave. With $10 a month promotional subscriptions biting down hard on profitability, the powers-that-be seemingly decided to cut the losses. The company scaled back promotions and the number of customers on entry-level plans declined significantly, however on a more positive note, the number of premium subscriptions remained stable.

Unfortunately for AT&T, stable will not cut the grade anymore. Having made the questionable decision to acquire DirecTV for $67 billion in mid-2015, some would have hoped the outcome would be more than ‘stable’ three years later. With another whopper of an acquisition taking place during this three-year period, AT&T will be hoping to scale up success before too long if it is to reduce the debt weighing down the spreadsheets.

“Our top priority for 2018 and 2019 is reducing our debt and I couldn’t be more pleased with how we closed the year,” said CEO Randall Stephenson. “In 2018, we generated record free cash flow while investing at near-record levels.”

The other acquisition, WarnerMedia, seems to be having a better time of it than DirecTV. Total WarnerMedia revenues were $9.2 billion, up 5.9% year over year, primarily driven by higher Warner Bros revenues, consolidation of Otter Media and higher affiliate subscription revenues at Turner. What remains to be seen is whether this can continue. WarnerMedia is a media company which is awaiting the full integration and transformation wonders from AT&T. What impact this risk-adverse, lethargic and traditional business will have on the media giant is unknown in the long-run.

Elsewhere in the business, things were a little more positive. The team added 134,000 valuable post-paid subscriptions in the wireless business, though this remained below expectations, with the total now up to 153 million. Total revenues were up15.2% to $47.99 billion though this was also below analysts’ estimates of $48.5 billion. A bit more positive, than DirecTV’s car crash, but still not good enough according to Wall Street as share price declined 4.5%.

Vodafone blames accounting change for €800mn revenue decline

Vodafone has unveiled its quarterly results for the period ending December 31, and while a year-on-year decline of €800 million might worry some, it’s not as bad as you think.

The team claims it has performed pretty much in-line with expectations and the same period of 2017, however a shift over to the IFRS15 accounting standard, the sale of the Qatar business and FX headwinds caused the decline. In other words, it’s all the fault of the bean counters.

“We have executed at pace this quarter and have improved the consistency of our commercial performance,” said Group CEO Nick Read. “Lower mobile contract churn across our markets and improved customer trends in Italy and Spain are encouraging, however these have not yet translated into our financial results, with a similar revenue trend in Europe to Q2.

“We enjoyed good growth across our emerging markets with the exception of South Africa, which was impacted by our pricing transformation initiatives and a challenging macroeconomic environment. Overall, this performance underpins our confidence in our full year guidance.”

Addressing the elephant in the room, the €800 million decline. While suggesting a change in accounting standards is a primary cause might sound flimsy, it certainly will have contributed. IFRS15 dictates a business cannot recognise all revenues up-front; if a contract has been signed, revenue can only be recognised in the financials when it is collected. For example, if your customer has agreed terms to pay at the end of the contract, once conditions have been fully satisfied, this revenue cannot be reported until that point. In other words, Vodafone cannot claim it has the money until customers have actually paid it.

While this is a perfectly reasonable explanation of why revenues might have declined, it is also important to recognise Vodafone is under pressure in numerous markets. The team have claimed success across the European markets, with improving customer and financial trends in Italy, retail growth in Germany and reduced churn in Spain, but year-on-year revenues were down 1.1%. Again, there will be multiple factors contributing to this decline, but it would be foolish to suggest everything is rosy at Vodafone.

A couple of weeks back, RBC Capital Markets released an investment note suggesting Vodafone is not only in a slightly precarious position because of competition pressures (in Europe, Africa and India), but upcoming auctions as well. Depending on how aggressively spectrum prices continue to inflate, Vodafone could fit itself footing a bill between €4.5 billion and €12 billion.

Looking at the performance in the markets, if you ignore the difficult one’s things are going great. European service revenues declined 2% to €7.496 billion (using a consistent accounting standard), with the Spanish, Italian and UK markets all reporting drops. Germany and the ‘other’ European markets reported year-on-year increases of 1.1% and 4.1% respectively. In Italy, the team has faced the uncomfortable entry of the disruptive Iliad, while the impact of handset financing was the cause in the UK. In Spain, the team restructured various offerings to make the brand more competitive. In theory, all of these markets should stabilise over the coming months.

Across Africa, Vodacom revenues grew by 1.5%, though growth was dampened by the South African market. Here, service revenue declined by 0.9% down to the pricing transformation strategy. The aim here was to reduce exposure to out-of-bundle revenues and improve the performance of more generous promotional summer offers. Over the period, South Africa added 86,000 contract customers, primarily from the business unit.

The other tricky market is India, but we’ll have to wait for a while to see the lay of the land there. Vodafone Idea will report its third quarter results in February, though as the integration of these two businesses is a work-in-progress any results will have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Reliance Jio is running the show in India as it stands, but the Vodafone Idea merger will have to be given time to create a competitive offering.

Overall, these are results which we should have expected. Vodafone is reacting to pressure in various markets, but it is not in the most comfortable position. In the vast majority of its markets, Vodafone would be considered more of a challenger than a leader. There are certainly dominant positions in some of the African markets, but it Europe it is fighting for attention.

The business is not nose-diving, but it certainly isn’t thriving. However, there are proactive measures taking place across the world to cultivate success. The fixed broadband offering in the UK should make an effective convergence business, Vodafone Idea could challenge the momentum of Reliance Jio, while more competitive tariffs in markets such as Spain and Italy should put it is a better position moving forward.

Vodafone is making some interesting, and encouraging, decisions but it is starting to fight bloody battles on a lot of fronts.