Delivery of virtual pay TV and aggregated OTT video via telco-branded streaming devices and big-name tech/CE vendor platforms is on the rise. The shift away from set-top box will reduce costs and expand reach.
The long-running debate around the future of the set-top box (STB) continues, and while most pay-TV distributors are adapting to the online world via hybrid platform implementations, a growing number are preparing for (or accelerating their migration to) a predominantly streaming delivery environment.
A substantial number of telcos—including market leaders as well as those with limited pay-TV presence—have deployed branded streaming media devices as an alternative to the traditional STB, and Omdia’s research shows that such implementations are on the rise, particularly among MNOs and fixed broadband providers. Service providers for whom traditional pay-TV plays a substantial role within their overall service portfolio tend to opt for hybrid STB platforms, whereas several lower-tier players have deployed either streaming-only devices, or streamers with embedded decoders (typically DTT tuners in Australia and Italy for example, and DTH in India). Among the two major US deployments of proprietary streaming pay-TV device platforms, Comcast’s Xfinity Flex is currently confined to its existing fixed broadband footprint, but could readily be extended off-net, while AT&T has made clear its intention to gradually migrate the DirecTV customer base to the AT&T TV streaming service it launched in March.
As telcos and other video entertainment distributors experiment with hybrid and streaming-only device platforms, many are taking strides towards a “box-free” scenario, where pay-TV—or virtual pay-TV—services are delivered directly via apps to standard tech-vendor’s branded CE devices. In some cases, access via these devices is enabled as a multiroom alternative, while in others it serves as an STB replacement. Besides the ever-growing list of big-name smart TV models that carry operators’ online TV service apps, popular streaming-only platforms such as Apple TV 4K and Amazon Fire TV are increasingly being adopted by operators as an alternative delivery channel. By June of this year, Telefónica España’s Movistar+ pay-TV offering was being accessed via around 2 million connected TV devices (in addition to 3.5 million regular STBs) each month.
Recognizing consumers’ growing preference for popular tech device brands, some telcos are looking to cement loyalty by providing these directly to their customers with attractive financial terms. EE bundles Apple TV4K devices free with their video or broadband subscriptions, Proximus offers them at a discount (€69) ($80.9) to multiplay customers, while in France, Bouygues is selling smart TV sets from €49.
Bezeq (Israel), Telenor (Denmark), SFR (France), and Sunrise (Switzerland), are among the growing list of telcos enabling long-term, interest-free payment plans (along with carrier billing) for streaming devices and smart TV sets. Such measures are an effective tactic for locking customers into a minimum contract period and securing deeper and longer-lasting service commitments.