Strategic Transformation

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1 Telcos & OTT providers are redefining home entertainment; MSOs must adapt or die. Strategic Transformation 1

2 MSOs: Expanding beyond cable Cloud-Pipe-Device: Integration for success Engines of QoE-oriented IP transformation Online upstarts are eating away at stalwarts' margins By Ray Berger Recently, American multiple system operators (MSOs) have been on the defensive. Traditional business models are becoming outdated while once dominant players are finding themselves under attack by new entrants. Recent changes in technology, consumer behavior and non-traditional service offerings such as over-thetop (OTT) content, peer-to-peer networking and content provision by new players such as Amazon Instant Video, Netflix and Hulu, are starting to erode even the most well-established revenue streams. Not only have these changes dramatically altered the MSO competitive landscape, they also present numerous challenges to the position of MSOs as leading providers and aggregators of video content. MSO market overview By the end of 2011, U.S. MSOs are projected to have over 60 million subscribers, with a combined revenue of nearly USD98.1 billion. Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications, the nation s three largest cable service providers, are expected to account for nearly 70% of the market, with the remaining 30% split between remaining tier-2 and tier- 3 service providers. With an expected growth rate in excess of 30% over the next ten years, MSOs in the U.S. are expected to have combined revenue exceeding USD129 billion by Although new customers will contribute to this future growth, the primary driver is expected to come from increases in ARPU, as the existing subscriber base begins to adopt new or enhanced services offerings. Although the future may seem bright for MSOs, this optimism is tempered by the reality that broadband and voice service revenues their bread-and-butter are under pressure and may decline in the near future. Changes in the MSO service profile Greater competition from telcos and non-traditional service providers, high penetration rates of broadband and broadcast TV services, and general economic factors have had a noticeable impact on many core MSO revenue streams. Upon closer inspection, several trends are emerging: Advertising revenue has yet to recover MSOs are granted a small amount of advertising capacity to sell, typically two to three minutes of video programming per hour. Given the broad economic pressures of the U.S. credit crisis, along with more focused media buying by advertisers, ad sales fell sharply in 2009, with declines ranging from 16 to 25% at Cablevision, Comcast, and Time Warner. Although signs point to a sustainable economic recovery in the U.S., advertising revenues have yet to return to pre-2008 levels. 2

3 Strategic Transformation Broadcast TV subscriptions are eroding Since 2004, the total number of basic pay-tv subscribers has decreased by 7.2%. In 2008 and 2009, these services experienced their largest decreases, primarily due to subscribers migrating to satellite-based services. In the years to come, continued erosion is expected as competition from telcos increases and next-generation multimedia services are unveiled. Premium broadcast TV subscriptions have also suffered; during the same period, the total number of subscribers has decreased by 6.1%. Although satellite service providers played a role in this, migration to digital and HD packages was also a factor. Digital and HD service adoption is slowing Once a primary driver for growth, the adoption of high definition and digital cable service is starting to slow as the numbers of annual add-ons decrease. Due to increased competition from telcos, high penetration levels of cable modems and other broadcast television services, and a difficult housing market, the growth of both HD and digital services has been cut in half since Although HD services are still expected to post double-digit gains through 2013, these figures are much lower than the 34.5% growth experienced in Adoption of voice service is peaking Erosion of MSO voice subscriptions has been attributed to increased wireless coverage and utility, as well as proliferation of communication applications on PCs (Skype, magicjack) and smartphones. Even the increased adoption rates of MSO voice services by enterprises, and a potential recovery in the U.S. housing market, is not expected to offset this decline. Broadband Internet growth has slowed The estimated U.S. household broadband penetration rate is roughly 60%, with the cable industry holding roughly 53% of the overall market. While the household broadband rate is not believed to have plateaued, growth rates have fallen from nearly 30% in 2004 to just over 6% in Triple-play services are under attack The offering of triple-play services (voice, video and data) was the first significant milestone achieved by MSOs that established them as a viable alternative to traditional telcos. Consumers found video services compelling, allowing MSOs to leverage their existing infrastructure to provide a compelling alternative to xdsl. Until recently, this position was virtually unassailable, given the lack of broadcast video service offerings by telcos. However, over the past few years, both AT&T and Verizon have implemented aggressive video buildouts and have gained significant traction with their triple-play offerings. AT&T 3

4 Huawei Communicate expects to pass 30 million homes by the end of U-verse, one of its key services, has a current penetration level in the low teens and is expected to eventually reach about 30%. Verizon, which currently has 12.5 million homes open for data services and 12.1 million open for video, has plans for fiber to exceed 70% of traffic. Penetration levels in territories that have been open to sale for 24 months have reached 30%; Verizon s management expects some markets to see 40-50% penetration levels eventually. Since video is the key to offering compelling triple-play services, the erosion of MSO broadcast video market share for telcos shows the emerging threat to MSO dominance in triple-play services. A new competitive environment In addition to a changing service profile, the MSO market is coming under pressure from several external factors driven by technology or changes in consumer preference. Emergence of fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) In the near future, FMC will mean that a single device can connect through and be switched between wired and wireless networks. As Verizon, AT&T and their brethren accelerate LTE deployment, FMC is expected to keep pace. FMC poses a unique challenge for MSOs, given their lack of wireless services or product offerings. Service provision is further hampered by their lack of experience offering wireless products, the high costs of deploying cellular infrastructure, and market perceptions of incompetence in offering viable alternatives to Verizon or AT&T. Proliferation of OTT content Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, and Internet TV all encroach on MSO service offerings. They leverage broadband pipes provided by the MSOs while eroding multiple revenue streams; advertising, pay TV and HD/digital video services are all affected. Video programming costs are ballooning While video ARPU is helping to offset MSO subscriber base declines, video programming costs are growing at a faster rate. In 2008, Comcast s programming costs rose 8.2%, driving gross margins for video down from 67.5 to 66.2%. In 2009, margins fell even further, to 64.0%. Another way of looking at such costs is on a per-subscriber basis. In Q2 2009, programming costs per video subscriber were USD24.41, up nearly 12% from a year earlier. Subscribers expect free content Content distributors have begun offering a variety of video offerings for free online. Though limited to certain programmes, there is concern that all content could eventually move online, eliminating any competitive advantage currently held by the MSOs. Content producers would generate revenue through Internet advertising rather than programming fees paid by cable providers. MSOs begin to adapt MSOs, realizing the need to evolve, have begun to focus on other areas to drive revenue growth. Not only are they beginning to offer new services, but they are also exploring new business models so that they remain competitive. Quadruple-play services To address triple play erosion and leverage trends for fixedmobile convergence, MSOs are considering quadruple-play services, which would include a wireless product that augments their voice, video and data offerings. This foray into wireless telecommunications is sure to bring new rounds of mergers and acquisitions, as well as legal challenges, as companies fight for bandwidth, spectrum and dominance. Cox Communications has been offering wireless services via Sprint wholesales agreements since Q as part of its quadruple-play strategy, while Time Warner Cable began reselling Clearwire WiMAX 4G services at the same time. Obtaining content at lower costs With the proliferation of low/no-cost content online, subscribers are coming to expect it. Unfortunately for MSOs, fees charged by content providers continue to increase. Caught in the middle, they are starting to look for alternative business models to help offset their declining margins. For the first time ever, partnerships and acquisitions are being considered. Some MSOs have relied on partnerships to provide them with access to content that is unavailable elsewhere. For example, RCN and SnagFilms formed an MSO/web partnership where RCN gets access to Snag s film archive while Snag gets a set-top box widget and movie of the week on RCN. Acquisitions aimed at vertical integration may 4

5 Strategic Transformation For MSOs, the next ten years will be crucial. Not only will they need to defend themselves against next generation video services like U-verse and FiOS, they will also need to integrate wireless services into their lineups. also prove vital to lowering the costs of high-quality content. On December 3, 2009, Comcast announced an agreement to acquire a 51% share of NBC Universal from General Electric. The deal was approved on January 18, 2011, creating a vertically integrated mediadistribution powerhouse that has the ability to offer NBC s extensive archive of content to Comcast subscribers. Not only does this acquisition allow Comcast to combat increasing content licensing fees, but it also insulates them from potential lawsuits over broadcast rights that may result from new service offerings (like multi-screen support on third party devices). Leveraging third-party devices In the U.S., content providers are now offering or testing multiplatform video services. In the last few months, Cablevision and Time Warner Cable have both launched live TV feeds for the ipad. During this time, Comcast has been preparing to offer streaming video from live TV channels to the ipad and other tablets. Given the erosion in their subscriber base, MSOs are trying to use multiscreen video to increase subscriber loyalty and create new revenue streams. For instance, Comcast is now using new ipad applications for its Xfinity TV service to help customers find, watch and buy video content. MSOs can also leverage multi-screen video technology to craft more personalized services. For example, they can package TV shows, movies and videos for PC, tablet, and/or smartphone consumption. Additionally, MSOs are planning to use this platform to shore up existing business models. Broadcast TV advertising, for example, has become less and less compelling as more and more enterprises are focusing on nontraditional advertising platforms such as the Internet and social media. Now, through the use of third-party consumer devices and applications, MSOs are able to more precisely track viewers on a variety of media platforms, allowing them to create more targeted advertisements and charge higher rates. Network transformation One MSO focus is transformation of traditional broadcast networks into end-to-end IP networks. This new architecture conserves bandwidth by eliminating the need to broadcast all channels to all subscribers over the HFC infrastructure while simplifying multimedia delivery, improving content and subscriber management, and lowering total cost of ownership (TCO). Focusing on business services HFC infrastructure passes within half a mile of 80 percent of all U.S. businesses, presenting an enormous opportunity for cable operators to compete with traditional carriers in the business services arena. Enterprise customers, who are typically stuck with traditional carriers, would welcome an alternative supplier that can offer greater flexibility or enhanced services. Since most MSO access networks were designed primarily for residential video and data services, they require changes to adequately address the enterprise market. Greater bandwidth and provisioning flexibility, QoS control, SLA enforcement, and scalability are all concerns that need to be addressed to satisfy enterprise customers who are accustomed to the reliability and availability of the PSTN. Comcast has made pursuing enterprise customers a priority. Currently, annual revenue from business services exceeds USD1.3 billion and is growing at a rate in excess of 50%. For MSOs, the next ten years will be crucial. Not only will they need to defend themselves against next -generation video services like U-verse and FiOS, they will also need to make wireless services an integral part of their lineup. The acquisition of content at lower prices is essential, while enterprise customers must play a larger role in their business model. MSOs must find new roads that lead to profitable and sustainable business opportunities. Editor: Michael 5

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