September 28, 2011 15:21 bpiper

Reuters is reporting that cable operators are working on a plan to allow customers to purchase channels on an individual basis, also known as à la carte. This represents a 180 degree change in strategy and position, from an industry that has long held that established advertising models preclude any departure from the 'tiered' channel system. 

Glad to see you're finally coming around, Cable.

Not that you had much choice. And not to be uncharitable, but golly, it feels good.

You see, our camp (those who have been citing the need for à la carte bundling for the past 4+ years) has been rather sparsely populated of late. In countless reports, presentations and one-on-one meetings with Cable executives over the years, we have pointed out that à la carte is not just a consumer preference, it is a Pay TV imperative. Meanwhile, through industry blowhards and paid quote-models, we have been told that it can't work, that it won't work.

Our response has always been that it has to work, if Pay TV is to survive.

And after years of dismissing it out of hand, of categorically rejecting any survey data or consumer insights contradicting their established talking points, Cable is finally listening, the wires and airwaves are filling up with the sounds of pundits finally changing their tunes.

"There is a growing recognition that the current model is broken," one epically overexposed talking head quipped yesterday.

How's that for groundbreaking insight?

US Pay Cable operators posted net subscriber losses for the 15th consecutive quarter in Q2'11. For fourteen of those fifteen quarters, the industry has regularly pivoted on its explanation.

First, they said net losses were just a 'blip', an anomaly. When losses persisted in sequential quarters, the stagnant economy and high unemployment were to blame. When that no longer held water, the talking point morphed into a we didn't want you anyway argument, that those churning or dropping were low value customers. A report we just published completely discredits that explanation as well.

Fresh out explanations, and having bled 400,000 subscribers in Q2'11, Pay TV really has no choice.

For as long as I've been covering this space, I've cited survey after survey confirming a strong consumer preference for à la carte and indeed, a willingness to pay MORE for à la carte. Consumers feel ripped off, they want to feel that they are in the drivers' seat. They need choice or the illusion of choice.

And contrary to what some suggest, money is not the primary motivator for consumer churn, it's about perceived value. It's about control of content.

ALACARTE_PAYTV

Indeed, our latest report, which draws on a recent survey of of 2,000 US households, further confirms this notion. It shows that 21% of American Pay TV subscribers would be willing to pay more than they currently do if it means they have some say in what channels they get.

Glad you've seen the light, Cable. What took you so long?

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December 22, 2010 16:12 dmercer
We don’t do this very often folks, but as a seasonal gift we have made our 2011 Digital Home Predictions report available to everyone, whether a Strategy Analytics client or not. You can download the full report here. A lot of the talk at the moment is about Google’s troubles with its TV offer: there will be little to see at CES after all, much to the annoyance of Google’s many partners no doubt. But this setback should not be seen as a a sign of general malaise in the connected TV industry: Apple has just reported that its TV solution is finally gaining some traction, and we expect continued progress from other key players in the rollout of internet TV to the big screen during 2011. We may even see Facebook moving into this space. Headline number of the year will be tablet revenues, which we predict will exceed netbooks. We also think Apple needs to revamp iTunes to take account of the connected device era, and Nintendo may have to take the plunge and launch the successor to the Wii. We’ll see further innovations in the TV control arena, with touchscreens, phone apps and motion control all featuring more widely. But 3DTV is likely to see only slow progress: sure, people will be buying 3D-enabled sets, but less than 20% will be watching 3D content on them. And one more stat to whet your appetite: more than one billion people worldwide will be using social networks for the first time during 2011. And since you are one of them, please go ahead and read the full report, and any comments and feedback are always appreciated. Best wishes for a peaceful holiday season. David Mercer Client Reading: Profiling the Connected Media Consumer - UK Add to Technorati Favorites

December 8, 2010 16:12 dmercer
At 4.30 yesterday afternoon I wished Anthony Rose well for 2011. He agree it was going to be an exciting time, as YouView moves into the launch phase, and gave no indication that within a few hours he would be stepping down from his high profile CTO role. Rose had just given another presentation on the progress of YouView, the broadband TV joint venture "spearheaded" by the BBC. As YouView's figurehead Rose, in a short time, had become a star attraction on the conference circuit, and I dare say a fair proportion of the packed audience (by no means just from the UK) at Informa's OTT TV World Forum were there primarily to listen to his latest update on the project's progress. In a one-to-one discussion after the panel, I had been asking Rose about the potential compatibility between the YouView system and hbbtv, the broadband TV standard being deployed in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. I'll bring more on this subject at another time, together with the views of hbbtv itself. During the Q&A one or two people noted the challenges of getting YouView to publish its guidance documents in a timely fashion. One questioner noted that he had learnt more about YouView in ten minutes of listening to Anthony than from reading hundreds of pages of documentation. Rose admitted that keeping the project on schedule, as well as meeting the information demands of multiple external stakeholders, had proved challenging. Today's news stories are suggesting that Rose was not considered capable of managing YouView as it moves towards the commercial deployment phase. He will stay on in "an advisory role", but this hardly smacks of a vote of confidence. Advice is one thing: the responsibility for taking decisions will clearly rest on new shoulders. YouView is inevitably putting a gloss on the development, which will come as a shock to many in the IPTV industry. Management turmoil is rarely a good thing, so if YouView is to meet its ambitious mid-2011 launch target it needs to rally the troops and have its new managers get the word out that they understand and can meet the challenges ahead, without losing the vision which Anthony brought to the project. Many YouView doubters remain; the battle with Sky and Virgin rumbles on, and a lot more water will flow under the bridge before the next phase in television's evolution becomes a commercial reality. Client Reading: Profiling the Connected Media Consumer - UK Add to Technorati Favorites

December 1, 2010 13:12 dmercer
As I prepare to chair a panel discussion on television advertising at this week’s Future TV Advertising conference, I thought I would dip into our consumer surveys to see what people are telling us about their attitudes towards advertising. For reference, our survey was based on a weighted sample of 2803 online respondents across France, Germany, Italy and the UK, and was fielded between July and September 2010. One of the issues often discussed at such conferences is the degree to which viewers enjoy advertising on television. Our survey found that only 7% of Europeans strongly agree that they “enjoy watching and listening to well produced and informative commercials on television”, and another 26% somewhat agree. But 23% strongly disagree that they enjoy watching commercials, and another 16% somewhat disagree. This gives a negative “balance” of -6% overall on the question of how much people say they enjoy watching TV ads; you are three times more likely to find someone who dislikes TV ads as someone who really enjoys them. The irony is that Europeans do appreciate that advertising plays an important role, even if they don’t like watching the ads. 51% somewhat or strongly agree with the statement that “advertising plays a useful role since it pays for the cost of providing entertainment”; only 31% disagree. There is even stronger agreement for the idea that all television should be “free” at the point of consumption: 65% of people somewhat or strongly agree with the statement “No one should have to pay for television; all programmes, including all sports and movies, should be available to everyone and supported by advertisements or public funding”. Only 24% disagreed with the idea that all television should be free. Not surprisingly (given that pay TV is most successful in the UK) the strongest support for this idea came from viewers in continental Europe, with 72% of French respondents in agreement. UK respondents are markedly different in their atttitudes towards free TV: 49% agree it should be free, but 32% disagree, giving a net balance of only 17%, compared to 58% in France. We found similar love-hate attitudes towards advertising in online television. People are very resistant to the idea that they could pay in order to avoid advertisements, but they also don’t like the fact that they have to watch adverts before an online TV show starts, and they think there are too many short adverts in online video content. So the challenge for advertisers appears to be the same as it ever was: getting a message across and engaging with viewers who are generally resistant to commercially motivated communications. Whether technology and innovation can help ease that process over the years ahead remains to be seen. Client Reading: Global Advertising Market Forecast Add to Technorati Favorites

October 25, 2010 20:10 bpiper
Already heated tempers reached a boiling point last week in the current mêlée between Fox's parent company, News Corporation and New York-based Cablevision. At issue is the question of "retransmission," the fees cable companies must pay networks to carry their programming in the line-up. In the latest salvo, News Corp elected to deploy a "nuclear option" of sorts--blacking out not just Fox channels, but also Cablevision subscriber access to sites such as fox.com and hulu.com. The access blocking, while short-lived, sent a clear message-Fox holds the cards. Was this move a shot across the bow of `traditional' cable, as some have suggested, or rather a shot in the foot for News Corp?

This Whole ‘Cord Cutting’ Thing?  Yeah, it’s Here to Stay

Dismissing or minimizing the severity of cord cutting has been de rigeur of late in the analyst community.  Many service providers and industry pundits alike have effectively buried their heads in the sand for the past 18 months over the issue, writing it off as “over hyped phenomenon.” Survey research we just fielded suggests that doubters might want to rethink their position.  According to the survey of 2,000 Americans in late Q3’10, 13% intend to drop their pay TV subscription in the upcoming year—and not replace it with another one.  We have long held that cord cutting is a very real problem, and what we’re seeing now is likely just the tip of iceberg.  What happens when today’s teenagers start controlling the pocket strings in five or ten years?

120 Channels and Nothing On

The average US household receives nearly 120 channels, though many would argue that they watch only a handful of those. Our survey found that, when asked to rank their five "must have" channels, Pay TV consumers chose the four "free networks" (CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX) as the top slots. ESPN rounded out the top 5. This is rather astonishing, and adds further credence to the notion of cord cutting.  After all, if  four of the top five channels an individual watches are available for free (either online or over the air), why on earth would one pay upwards of $70/month for a subscription?  Force of habit?  Because the cable company told you to?  To avoid having to switch an “input” button on the remote control?

Not the End for Pay TV—But Maybe Pay TV As We Know It

To be clear, we are in no way predicting the imminent demise of pay TV.  There will always be a market for premium content, and that customers will continue to be receptive to paying for content relevant to them. Rather, we believe that service providers must rethink business models. Some have already begun to do this, through initiatives like TV Everywhere.  That, however, solves only the where part of the problem.  Next to tackle is the what. A la carte?

October 14, 2010 14:10 dmercer
Hidden away in the depths of the European Commission’s latest household communications survey is a finding that should scare the 4X out of the cable industry: the percentage of EU27 households using cable TV fell by 4% between 2008 and 2009, from 34% to 30%. To put this in context, that means the cable industry lost around 8 million TV household customers in the space of just 12 months. The biggest winner has been digital terrestrial television. The share of households using digital terrestrial rose from 12% to 23%, while the proportion of those using analogue terrestrial fell from 41% to 34%. Satellite also made gains, increasing by 2% to reach 24% of households, and IPTV rose from 2% to 4%. Observant readers will have noted that we have reached a total of 115% of households. The survey allowed for multiple answers because some hosueholds use a combination of different TV access services, usually because they have terrestrial TV (analogue or digital) for one TV set, with cable or satellite piped to another. Cable’s decline has been little short of dramatic in Benelux. For years, visitors to those countries were told that the “only” way to receive television was through a cable network. Even though cable TV penetration strictly speaking never reached the 100% mark, it was certainly in the 90%+ range for many years. Now, according to the viewers themselves at least, cable is used by only 69% of Belgian households, a decline of 18% in one year. This was mirrored precisely by the increase in digital terrestrial usage over the same period. In the Netherlands, cable usage fell to 75% of homes, with digital terrestrial at 21% by the end of 2009. This is not the “cord cutting” which American cable operators are currently fretting over. Stateside, the hot issue is whether cable (and satellite) customers will switch to internet-delivered, OTT TV. In Europe, the threat from digital terrestrial television is currently much greater and already having a marked impact. Where cable used to provide the de facto option for “free”, commercially funded TV channels, it is losing ground rapidly to over-the-air services. The latter, of course, are genuinely free of charge (except for public service TV licence fees in some cases), in contrast to the “basic” fees cable operators have always charged. Here is yet another indication of the huge structural differences between the US and European markets, which strike me every time I travel between the two regions. A couple of days ago, during a meeting with a well-known US software provider looking to enter the European connected TV market, I saw another sign of how US companies can struggle to appreciate these variations when they visit Europe. It may have been more or less abandoned in the US, but free-to-air television in Europe is alive and well. Client Reading: Global Digital Television Forecast: 1H'10 Add to Technorati Favorites

October 14, 2010 09:10 dmercer
The excitement around 3D has been palpable over the past year, beginning with the numerous announcements, roll outs and demos at CES.  The momentum continued through the spring and summer, with more service providers putting stakes in the ground, and carried over to this year’s IBC show, where Strategy Analytics hosted an analyst breakfast on the topic with Sky 3D head, Brian Lenz.  The verdict? Excitement and hype levels were skyrocketing.  The question remains, though, whether or not anyone can spin this into a viable and profitable consumer offering. Over the summer, we fielded a 4,800 respondent survey  in five countries (France, Germany, Italy, UK and US), asking individuals about their understanding of, interest in, and willingness to pay for 3DTV.  The results are covered in detail in report we just published last week.  Here are some highlights:

Translating 3D Excitement into 3DTV Viability is Challenge

Over 70% of those who have seen 3D in the movie theater are impressed by its quality, but only 55% of those same individuals say they’re interested in watching 3DTV at home. How can Service Providers translate the cinematic excitement around 3D into a viable residential business? We found a few barriers standing in the way, including a dearth of content in 3D, luke-warm consumer interest in paying, hardware issues (the need to wear glasses), and widespread market uncertainty.

Market Uncertainty is a Barrier

Respondents were asked a battery of questions around their perceptions of 3DTV, including availability, hardware requirements and potential health and safety issues.  While overall awareness is quite high, with 94% saying they believe it’s possible to see 3D films in a movie theater, on other questions, the market uncertainty is substantial. The most surprising, and most critical finding to both vendors and service providers alike, is the uncertainty surrounding perceived health risks. Overall, 70% of respondents said they were either unsure or believed that watching 3DTV causes damage to the eyes. We believe that this perception issue, which proved to be common across the five countries surveyed, is a key hurdle standing in the way of widespread adoption of 3DTV. Regardless of the validity of the belief, customer perception is what matters, and such widespread uncertainty could prove disastrous if not addressed appropriately.

Perceived Health Risk by Country (“3DTV Causes Eye Damage”) N=4,803

HealthRisk Source: Strategy Analytics

Target: Cube Tubers

3DTV, at least in the short term,  will be largely a niche application, attractive to only a subset of the general population. Through our survey work, we have isolated and identified this demographic as the “Cube Tubers,” and suggest that they should be viewed as a key target market for service providers and equipment vendors. These individuals represent between 8%-10% of the overall population, and are unique in their intentions to purchase a 3DTV in the upcoming year, and to be active premium/HD customers.  Cube Tubers,  who are predominantly young, educated married males, are nearly twice as likely as the average Joe to expect to pay for 3DTV.  Willingness or expectation of paying hits on an issue that many in the industry seem to be overlooking.  Few question the “wow” factor of 3D.  Rather, the question is, how do you make money at it? Client Reading: 3DTV: Will Consumers Buy It? Add to Technorati Favorites

October 13, 2010 17:10 dmercer
I was speaking on the panel at the OTT 'mashup' eventat Ogilvy's London Docklands headquarters last night, alongside Turner Broadcasting's Casey Harwood and Anthony Rose, CTO at the BBC's Canvas (now YouView) project, amongst others. As a first-time masher-up and intrigued at the possibilities for the format, the event turned out to be organised along relatively familiar panel debate lines. Casey and I began with introductory comments, and were followed by critiques from the other contributors. The session was then opened up to debate, including audience questions. All the time, running on a display behind us, was a Twitter feed of comments from participants in the twittersphere, as well, presumably, as a few of the 100 or so people who joined us in the traditional, physical fashion. The only problem was that the panelists had to turn away from the audience to see if any particularly fascinating Tweets had appeared, and if they ever did, it was noticeable that the physical audience's attention would be diverted to the ominous gap between the panelists and away from the speakers. The one recommendation I would make is that questions and comments from the virtual audience could have been added to the debate; it did rather feel at times as though we were being Tweeted at without right of reply. Nevertheless it was an interesting evening and I hope the audience found the debate valuable. my own contribution centered on a few relevant datapoints from our recent survey of UK TV and online TV viewers. In particular I referenced the fact that 13% of UK people are currently watching TV on the internet at least on a weekly basis. So we needed to bear in mind that the OTT phenomenon is still restricted to a relatively small proportion of the population, and most of that activity is taking place on the PC. The number of people accessing web TV on their TV set is of course even smaller: 6% of people are connecting a PC to a TV, and 4% now claim to use a dedicated internet TV device. Having said that, our work with early connected TV adopters within our Digital Home Observatory suggests that television behaviour can change rapidly once viewers have access to some of these emerging technologies. This segment is motivated by a desire for greater viewing flexibility and access to preferred content. They also still see weaknesses in current connected TV solutions, especially in the field of control devices and interfaces. The panel also touched on the issue of business models, and in response to the question of how things might look in three years I replied that the basic alternatives would not change greatly: television in the UK will still be funded by a combination of public service licence fees, advertising and customer payment of one sort or another. The mix may change slightly, and we may see greater variety in pay business models. But it’s important to remember that customers are very sensitive to their monthly bills. The impression is often given, especially by new entrants, that new payment models can somehow overcome consumer resistance to the size of the overall television bill. The reality is that 80% of UK customers check their bank statements every month, and a similar proportion prefer predictability in their monthly payments. 69% would agree to pay only for the shows they watch, but only if it reduced the overall monthly bill. All in all I agreed with Anthony Rose’s comment that too little emphasis in connected TV discussions has been put on live, scheduled television. The assumption seems to be that this traditional model will break down rapidly as various on-demand options become available, but this trend is likely to happen only slowly over a long period of time. Even for early adopters, scheduled broadcasting remains an important part of the overall mix. The overall message is one of increased fragmentation of delivery models and audiences. Client Reading: Profiling the Connected Media Consumer - UK Add to Technorati Favorites

September 21, 2010 17:09 dmercer
Embarrassing Apology of the Week Award goes to Sky for the following email just received by its UK customers: “In our recent newsletter - 'This week on Sky Player' - we did not make it clear that in order to watch live Sky Sports for free on Sky Player until 31/12/2010, you need to subscribe to Sky Sports 1 & 2 on Sky TV. We apologise and hope that this did not cause too much confusion.” The company presumably has received complaints from confused customers who do not currently pay for Sky Sports on TV and assumed, naturally enough, that when Sky told them they could watch Sky Sports for free on Sky Player, they could watch Sky Sports for free on Sky Player. In fact, the email should clearly only have been sent to customers who already pay for Sky Sports on TV, or worded very differently for all customers. No doubt the company’s apology is also intended to ward off any possibility of a regulatory wrist-slap. It’s a little unfair, if rather easy on this occasion, to pick on Sky for its misleading communications over bundled service offers. But this episode does highlight the age-old question of when “free” really means “free”. My own father, who was fond of repeating the well-worn cliché “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”, would probably say “never”. And perhaps consumers in the 21st Century have been bombarded by so many unlikely offers that they are simply inured to misleading advice. The details, after all, are usually in the fine print, if anyone can be bothered to check. What’s the difference, after all, between Sky offering “free” Sky Sports to its paying customers, and mobile phone customers offering “free” texts to its paying customers? Or “free” mobile phones to customers who have to pay money to use them every month? To quote Orange’s current Monkey offer: “Get free music, texts and a free daily internet pass, just for topping up £5 on Monkey”. So, spend money to get something free. These “offers” are such an established feature of bundled service marketing (and commercial life in general) if anything it's surprising that Sky felt the need to respond. A liberal deployment of asterisked fine print should help Sky avoid similar problems in future. Client Reading: Apple TV: Still Just a Hobby? Or Another Nail in Pay Television's Coffin? Add to Technorati Favorites

August 27, 2010 12:08 dmercer
3DTV will again be one of the hot topics at this year’s IBC in Amsterdam. Unlike previous years, however, discussions and demonstrations will take place against the background of broadcasters delivering commercial 3D services to residential TV viewers. Since earlier this year 3D television programmes have been broadcast, if only on a selective basis, to viewers of some cable, satellite and IPTV services in the US and Europe. But as sales of 3D-capable TVs begin to take off, Sky’s UK launch of the first full-time 3DTV channel on October 1st will confirm the arrival of 3DTV as a fully fledged consumer proposition. But compared to the excessive hype which has built up over the last couple of years as the industry geared up for launch, the mood this year may appear to be markedly more realistic, and tinged with more notes of caution than were previously evident. It’s still too early to discuss consumer reaction to fully fledged home 3DTV services (as opposed to any of the out-of-home options) – the number of people who have actually seen a 3DTV broadcast in the comfort of their own homes is still tiny. But pre-launch surveys are suggesting 3D in general may not become the sure-fire success many were hoping for. Strategy Analytics’ own consumer surveys suggest a very mixed response across the board. Our survey of European consumers is still in the field, but the first results from the US suggest that the industry must at least overcome doubts about the health impact of watching 3DTV. More than half of respondents are unsure whether watching 3DTV can cause damage to the eyes, and 17% actually believe that 3DTV may cause damage. With the level of uncertainty the industry clearly has a lot of work to do to bring 3DTV to the mass market. Overall we found that 11% of people are somewhat or very likely to buy a 3DTV during the coming year. This may not sound a lot but it’s not bad for a newly launched technology. What’s interesting is the impact of previous 3D experiences on buying intentions. In total 60% of Americans say they have seen a 3D movie at the cinema, and a quarter say they have been very impressed with the quality of the 3D experience. Those people are four times more likely to buy a 3DTV than people who say they were not impressed with 3D at the cinema. This may not be surprising, but it demonstrates the importance to the industry of continuing to improve the 3D experience in the cinema in order to meet its overall goal of bringing 3D to the home viewer. We’ll be presenting many more findings from our research at our free-to-attend analyst forum during this year’s IBC, and Sky’s Brian Lenz, who has headed up the company’s 3D initiative, will be giving the audience his thoughts on our findings as well as an update on Sky’s 3D launch plans. Attendees are invited to register in advance by visiting www.strategyanalytics.com/ibc2010.html. Meet Our Analysts: 3DTV Analyst Forum at IBC 2010 Add to Technorati Favorites