Seven trends from CABSAT 2016

CABSAT 2016 is one of the biggest dates in the Pay-TV industry calendar, with some of the most influential names in the industry taking to the stage to share their insights.

As you may have seen from our blog post earlier in the week, our team have been in Dubai sharing their insights from the ground and during the event it became very evident to us that there were a number of key themes being discussed by the key speakers. Here’s our round-up of the seven biggest trends from CABSAT 2016:

Trend 1 – Content is king, but brand and experience are the Queens

The concept of the ‘Pay-TV Battleground’ was referenced by a number of speakers at CABSAT, and it’s something that Paywizard has been studying in detail in recent months.

Providers are having to work harder to keep customers, as the market is increasingly saturated and ultra competitive.

Customers simply aren’t loyal to one provider, and it has generally been accepted that it is content that drives them to sign up for services. However Christophe Firth, an analyst at AT Kearney, highlighted that in today’s battleground ‘Content is King but brand and experience are the Queens’.

Christophe describes this concept as a triangle. Providers focus on content to drive customers to sign up, yet building a good brand and customer experience for those engaging with the content are now hugely important too. Those are the three critical angles and you need each one to achieve success.

Trend 2 – The traditional linear TV model isn’t dead

Within the media industry many consider the emergence of global pay TV to be the death of traditional TV, but during CABSAT it became very clear that this isn’t the case.

Dreamworks’ Eric Ellenbogen and David Butorac, CEO of pay TV operator OSN, both commented that traditional TV channels will still have a huge role to play, even in the age of video on demand.

They argued that linear networks are far from finished, with Ellenbogen referring to the launch of the 24-hour Dreamworks channel as an indication of how much they believe in it, and he stated that one technology does not actually change or replace another, they just have a new role in the world. Traditional channels won’t disappear because they’ll become the cornerstone of content discovery.

This view was echoed in a State of the Industry report from Frost & Sullivan Although the Pay TV market is ready for disruption across MENA, the 1,000 free to air channels in the region are still going strong and this in turn is weakening paid penetration levels.

TV then – both paid and free to air – has a significant role to play. As Ellenbogen summarised, it is still going strong and has credibility.

Trend 3 – Pay TV providers need to adapt subscription models

In our previous CABSAT round-up, we described how Frost & Sullivan reaffirmed the opportunities in the MENA region, while identifying that operators are facing challenges breaking into the markets.

Supporting this, on day two Netflix described in detail the difficulties they are experiencing, citing low credit card penetration across the region as one of their biggest commercial issues. Put simply, they can’t accept customer payments because the technology isn’t there.

It’s a perfect case study for Frost and Sullivan’s report, which predicted that 40 per cent of global consumption will be OTT by 2020, but with a strong caveat that we will need the technology to work. This includes payment infrastructures where subscription models can adapt to the infrastructure and technology available ensuring that customers, no matter their location, experience a seamless service. There’s plenty of work to be done, it seems.

Trend 4 – Pricing plays an important role in breaking into MENA

Another insight from the Frost and Sullivan report was the idea that in MENA free to air channels are highly competitive, unlike other markets such as the USA where such rivalry rarely exists.

Their study concluded that there are 1,000 free to air channels in the region, the vast majority of which are strongly supported. This in turn is weakening paid TV penetration levels. It demonstrates how important the cost of TV is in the MENA market. With so many free options, pricing is key to ensuring services are accessible to everyone.

Trend 5 – Netflix is here to stay

Following Netflix’s global rollout announcement at CES earlier in the year, it came as no surprise that the company was at the centre of a lot of discussion at CABSAT as the poster child of global Pay-TV providers.

They lead the way for many providers and as Frost and Sullivan’s report stated, everyone constantly refers back to Netflix for content and pricing direction. The company has been facing content licensing issues in MENA and has cracked down on VPN users.

The implications of their growth on the wider industry was a topic was a hot topic at CABSAT but as David Amodio from Channel 4 disclosed, we shouldn’t assume that Netflix will go away, and we certainly shouldn’t run away from it either. As part of his address he announced that Channel 4 will collaborate with Netflix for content in future.

As the old adage goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them”, and it seems as though some traditional operators have already accepted that they can use Netflix and VOD to add value for their audience.

Trend 6 – Children’s content is driving non linear TV

Throughout the event, younger audiences were a common theme and Butorac was one of the many speakers who stated that there is huge potential for growth from ‘young content’.

The statistics speak for themselves, as around 38 per cent of the MENA population is aged 15-34, and operators are now consciously tailoring services for a younger audience in a bid to increase revenues.

Ellenbogen explained how kids have parental gatekeepers to their viewing and identifies that different cultures have different family time values. Some families see TV watching as a family activity while others use it as a babysitter. He points out that Pay-TV providers don’t necessarily need to create something new, animated content is something that can be dubbed in every language while it’s usually the old character favourites that are introduced to a family home.

Trend 7 – Technology is lagging behind the audience

With young audience content driving the way in pay-TV, this demographic creates another challenge in itself as it was pointed out during CABSAT that the technology appears to be lagging behind. It was widely accepted during the conference that the growth of catch-up TV on mobile devices, a platform favoured by younger audiences, is slowing down due to the cost of streaming across the MENA region, so while the content may be local, it’s no more accessible.

Ellenbogen was one speaker who provided commentary around mobile technology getting ahead of broadband in the likes of Africa, where there are hotspots everywhere. Users in Africa are using low tech devices with WiFi to download on the go, and so the trend of managing content so users can download on the go rather than streaming is becoming a trend.

Ultimately, Pay-TV providers must understand the consumer needs when breaking into a new region, providing the best product at the right time and price point.

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That’s it for CABSAT 2016 – for more industry news and Pay-TV commentary you can follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.