The competitive landscape for operators continues to become increasingly complex. Abhigyan Jha, founder & CEO at Undercover Productions, is an award winning writer, producer and director, and behind the first ever full format TV show made exclusively for the internet, Jay Hind! In this interview, Abhigyan draws on his experience and position as a content innovator to share his thoughts on why operators need to start thinking more like content companies to capitalise on the potential of 5G, and what we can all learn from Pokémon GO.
The OTT battleground
Over-the-top (OTT) players such as Netflix, Skype, Facebook and Amazon have been encroaching on telecom industry revenues for some time now, and operators are increasingly searching for strategies to counter this threat. To add salt to the wound, operators have had to plough investment into upgrading networks to cope with an ever-increasing appetite for data, in large part driven by these very same OTT applications.
One possible strategy to compete has been for operators to partner with OTT players, such as Three’s partnership to offer WhatsApp roaming packs in Hong Kong. These partnerships can bring certain benefits to the operator, like the potential to improve customer retention, acquisition and grow new revenue streams. However, Abhigyan argues that this partnerships model might not be the best approach in the longer term.
So what should operators be looking to do? According to Abhigyan they will have to innovate and play a role in content delivery that goes beyond the role of carrier, particularly with the introduction of 5G. Abhigyan argues that “Operators will have no choice – the moment they come to 5G they will have to become content companies. Any model they adapt to will have to be focused around content.”
In large part this will be driven by user expectation, argues Abhigyan. Over recent months 4G has been rolling out across India, with the promise of faster speeds than its 3G predecessor. However, according to Abhigyan, the first thing everybody in India has been saying is “what’s the difference between 3G and 4G; what content does it enable that I couldn’t already do?”. Taking video as an example, Abhigyan argues that any video content being delivered today doesn’t require 5G. There is no discernible difference for the user experience and so no reason to be wowed by faster speeds. “If you are running a 5G network, a super-advanced form of communication, but the content doesn’t reflect that why would the consumer pay more or upgrade?”
"You need an application that needs 5G, and applications that are uniquely delivered through 5G and its promise of higher bandwidth and faster networks."
So the potential improvement in user experience and the incentive for the consumer to invest in 5G is not about the speed, argues Abhigyan. “User experience is about your experience of content - what you are running, what is the pay off. So 5G has to blow people’s minds to get people to pay for it. You need an application that needs 5G, and applications that are uniquely delivered through 5G and its promise of higher bandwidth and faster networks.”
Learning from Pokémon GO
There is much to learn from the recently launched smartphone game, Pokémon GO, says Abhigyan. “Pokémon Go is a completely new form of gaming experience. Why has it been so popular? It’s not about the creative concept. It’s because it is the first game that is intuitive to the mobile. It cannot be played on any other device. Every other game that you’ve played before, you could have played on something else. That is the advancement and that is what we need to do with content – create content specific to the network or device you are on.”
And it’s these devices that have fundamentally changed the world and the customer’s user expectations. It’s now not OK to simply take the same old content and put it onto a mobile device. This is why, according to Abhigyan, OTT players such as Netflix may not be around - or around in the same format - by the time 5G comes into play. “The issue is that if you look at what Netflix does, taking usual content and streaming on IP networks, that is not a new model. They have not produced any content that can only be done on Netflix – everything they do can be done on HBO. The technology and devices have changed so much, so the content needs to change with it. You cannot run the same stuff you ran before. It’s like running a radio show on TV.”
5G is clearly bringing much excitement and buzz to the market. But to truly capitalise, grow revenue and compete, Abhigyan argues that operators will need to deliver content that offers unique experiences and services to customers, and in doing so become more agile. “It is a hungry audience out there. They want more choice not less. They want to be impressed. How many times do you receive a notification to upgrade an app? And why do they do that? As a reminder to use it – that it is new and improved.
Operators need to be seen as able to deliver the same to their customers; to think on their feet, be more agile and upgrade and refresh the experience of the network, and make you believe that every day the network is doing something new for you.”