Senior executives from BT and iFlix hailed the power of content to transform “transactional” brands and create an emotional connection with customers.
However, they warned that the complexities of offering live content – particularly sport – should not to be underestimated by telcos and OTT providers.
Speaking at Mobile World Congress, iFlix Chief Executive Mark Britt explained how the Malaysia-headquartered SVoD service had added live coverage of the country’s football league to its offering.
He said iFlix stepped in following an “epic war” between pay-TV providers and football authorities that left Malaysia’s 18 million football fans without coverage of the sport.
“We signed a deal on Tuesday and filmed our first game on Saturday, and it turns out our system can’t reset 40,000 passwords in 5 seconds before the game. It was a very humbling exercise.
“My Facebook feed is now full of abuse, which is a wonderful thing because now you know the customers give a shit. They were interested before, but now they really care.”
iFlix, which launched in 2014, serves emerging markets including Thailand, Sri Lanka, Iraq and Nigeria.
“There is a belief that live television should be a linear thing but we have these supercomputers that are in the hands of 1 billion people in emerging markets, and with these, people are now in control.
“We believe there is an entire generation of people who want to be in control of their entertainment experience,” said Britt.
Speaking during the same Value Creation and Investment in Content session in Barcelona, BT Sport Managing Director of Content and Strategy Andrew Haworth also spoke about the power of sport and how it had “transformed the BT brand”.
He said: “The BT brand historically was quite transactional and lacked that day-to-day relevance… there are softer factors [than the financial aspects]; connecting with a younger audience, making the brand more relevant and creating an emotional connection.
“Those are some of the softer benefits you get from sport that you don’t get from selling 4G or broadband. It’s about looking at it in the round and creating the right balance of network and content to drive engagement.”
BT launched BT Sport – with coverage of the Premier League at the heart of its offering - to defend and grow its connectivity business.
“Clearly networks are key, and fibre and 5G probably comes first [in terms of investment], but when you think about what drives those networks, its content. How we bring content and networks together is crucially important,” said Haworth.
When asked to reflect on the launch of BT Sport, Haworth spoke about similar problems to those encountered by iFlix.
“Obviously you need the studio facilities, but you also must change your sales and service operation to support weekend and peak evening sales, with calls coming in sometimes 10 minutes before a game when people decide they want to watch a Champions League fixture.
“There are also implications for the legal department, because sport and talent contracts aren’t standard. It’s easy to think about what happens on air, but a lot of the hard miles come behind the scenes…it’s the stuff under the surface that you need to line up to make it a success.”
Evolution of offering
The development of BT Sport is likely to focus on smaller screens. “How we leverage mobile, tablets third and fourth screens and potentially cars - that is how you will see the proposition evolve, with a focus on how you join up that narrative across all those devices and screens wherever you are,” said Haworth. “That is where you are likely to see the focus of innovation over the coming years, probably less on TV screen and more on devices.”