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Where are the telcos hiding at IBC 2017?

IBC 2017 no telcos

Content is a game that every telco wants to get involved in, but there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of it at IBC this year.

Multi-play is a majestic buzzword which has peppered the telecommunications world for the last couple of years, as operators look to recoup lost profits. Convergence is another which is on the lips of every PR-greedy CEO. Content is, of course, an important factor of this strategy. Arguably king.

But watching the keynotes this morning at IBC 2017, and flicking through the agenda, the telco presence is pretty limited.

While it is your correspondent’s first time at the conference, a few industry friendlies also highlighted the absence to us. This wasn’t just a passing comment either, we’re looking for some sort of reason. A couple of years ago, BT hogged the stage with loud and bold ambitions of dominating the content space; quite a contrast from this year’s event.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. The telcos are treading the steady slope to utilitization, and there doesn’t seem to be much friction. Spin-laden announcements declare the interest in adding value through content services, but perhaps that is all there is to these announcements – PR rhetoric to keep feisty investors at bay.

The truth is content is a difficult game to play in. You have to walk a fine line between sensible investments and lavish spending. Look at Netflix. It might be the poster child of the video evolution, but the costs of securing attractive content have spiralled upwards. Some might look at these costs and become a bit less bullish in the content arena.

Sports is another area where the balance is tricky. Yes, it is a strong emotional connection to the audience, but how much money do you want to spend for such a limited product lifecycle. If you are only leasing the rights you are playing a dangerous game of cost escalation.

Orange has taken a different route, going down the perhaps less attractive cultural content route, but then again this is also no guarantee of success. It is certainly more cost effective, but if you don’t get a return even a small amount of wasted cash could be seen as sacrilege.

And you don’t have to be a content producer. Just look at what Facebook is doing. It has cultivated an audience, and now charges access to it. It has even been very clever when it comes to original content. It hasn’t paid for it, but encouraged the narcissist in its users to the surface which has resulted in an absurd amount of user generated content.

The telcos might not have the same scale and footprint as Facebook (few people do), but they do have subscriber bases. How many customers does BT have in the UK? Or how about Vodafone across Europe? This is a trusted connection to an audience which the telcos are not making use of.

If telcos are too scared to be content producers, why not consider the less attractive and showy route of being a content distributor? It’s not as glamourous, but there is cash there; Facebook wouldn’t be considering it if there wasn’t.

This is essentially a golden ticket. The millennials, an audience which many want to reach, are notoriously difficult to nail down. But you can guarantee they won’t go anywhere without their smartphone. This is an audience which the telcos have an unreal connection to because on this dependence on devices. How are they not making better use of it!?!

All that remains is connectivity. This the telcos seem comfortable and happy doing, but this is not going to recover the eroding mountains of cash. This is simply going to make them a dumb pipe. The content revolution is happening right now and it just seems to be passing the telcos by.

So the absence this year has been noted. And the next time a telco complains to you about the relegation to the role of utility, perhaps you should quiz them as to whether they are just standing back and letting it happen.

  • TV Connect MENA


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