With more than five million u-verse subscribers AT&T knows a thing or two about the TV market so when GW Shaw, vice president for U-verse and video product marketing at AT&T in the US says apps are becoming ever more central part of the TV ecosystem you know it must be true.
As well as its 5 million U-verse subscribers, the company also has 9 million internet subscribers and 3 million voice subscribers. When selling its service around 70 per cent of customers take the triple package of voice, internet and TV.
Such a high rate comes, according to Shaw, from the company’s focus on TV apps – a strategy that he says allows the company to truly stand out from its other competitors in the US, by enhancing the service it can offer. “Apps have been part of the strategy since launch,” he says.
The company now has a portfolio of between 30 and 40 applications, more than any of its peers, that form a key component of its offer. They include both seasonal and permanent apps that range from the likes of Facebook to Santa Tracker “We have traditional apps that we keep up all the time and also seasonal apps that people get excited to see them up and use,” says Shaw.” All of these help to increase visibility, which in a service that has more than 600 channels – including 170 HD channels – anything that helps with discoverability is a must-have.
He also says apps helps to boost customer loyalty. “A customer that uses U-verse churns less than one that doesn’t,” he says. “Customer satisfaction is higher. Apps are making a difference as to how the customers interact with the service,” he says.
Indeed interaction is key to building loyalty, he says. “We are working very hard to build apps that interact between the customer and the TV and are seeing a lot of success with apps that build on mobile device that are controlling and talking to the TV – for example your mobile works as your remote control or you are watching TV and getting additional information on your mobile device. Those apps are really starting to make a difference,” he says.
Shaw says AT&T focuses on having two types of apps – entertainment and engagement apps, as well as cost avoidance applications such as the company’s account manager app.
As the market continues to grow Shaw says he sees apps becoming an even more central part of the TV ecosystem because customers get used to the extra functionality they offer. “We are at the place where customers don’t necessarily expect to have apps on the TV – they are not going in and demanding them but we are seeing that customers are using the apps and once they start using them they are starting to say what about doing this and what about doing that?” says Shaw. However this increased interest from customers means that if companies do go down the app route then keeping them vibrant and current is key, he says. “We are at the point that they are talking about apps and you are going to have to continue to feed that interest so it doesn’t get stale,” he says.
And Shaw believes they will become an even more important part of improving the viewing experience through personalisation and recommendations. “My belief is the video service is going to become less about the customer making decisions about what they want. Instead the video service will try to evaluate what the customer wants and try to deliver. Personalisation and recommendations are going to become even stronger through the apps. It will start building you a VOD playlist that are like your favourite shows etc. or it may be that you like a show where a woman carries a handbag you like and you can order the handbag through the app. I think you will really see applications start to merge as a way to personalise the viewing experience more than you will ever have before,” he says.
Shaw believes there are big changes ahead within the next twelve to eighteen months. “People are already starting to dip their toe into it and as we get smarter about what customers want that will get more functional,” says Shaw.
“Apps are absolutely going to be the next level of differentiation in the video platform. We differentiated with content, then HD, then DVRs now apps will drive our ability to personalise, and for recommendations and will really be what takes us to the next level on the video platform,” he says. We can only wait and watch.
GW Shaw will be lead keynote on this year's TV Apps workshop at Apps World. To find out more about the TV Apps agenda and how to register please click here.