MWC17: No one in the video value chain is safe from disruption

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Eric Xu, deputy board chairman and rotating CEO of Huawei. Credit: GSMA

Everyone in the video content value chain is reeling from the effects of digital disruption, as telcos are forced to rethink network design to support growing demand for video, while the content owners themselves are having to rethink how they package content and engage with fans.

That was the general theme during a keynote session at MWC17 focused on digital content disruption and how the ecosystem can monetize it.

On the telecoms vendor side, Eric Xu, deputy board chairman and rotating CEO of Huawei, reiterated a message the company has been promoting for some time – the idea that telcos planning their upgrade strategies need to make sure the end-result is engineered specifically for video traffic rather than traditional voice.

That’s partly because video is already putting heavy traffic loads on the network, and it will get heavier as 2K and 4K video become the baseline standard for picture resolution, and as new technologies like augmented and virtual reality are added to the equation.

However, Xu added, it’s not just about bandwidth, but also delivering a great network experience – which from a network point of view means being able to handle things like knowing whether the device requesting the video can support SD, HD or UHD and deliver the appropriate bandwidth for all.

It also requires a better understanding of how the consumer perceives that experience. “You can’t measure the video experience with network-oriented KPIs because they have nothing to do with video,” he said. “You can’t tell if the network is robust enough to deliver 4K video for two hours straight.”

Last year, Huawei teamed with Oxford University to develop a video experience measurement system called V-MOS – a sort of MOS score for video.

Mobile-first mentality

On the content side, Vivendi CEO Arnaud de Puyfontaine, CEO of discussed how Vivendi – which owns the UMG music label and Canal Plus Group, as well as mobile games developer Gameloft – has had to dramatically alter the way it thinks about its various content businesses.

“Media used to be in their own silos – music was separate from video, video is separate from games, and each had their own demographics. But now we’re not thinking in terms of silos, we’re thinking in terms of the relationship with the consumer,” he said.

He added that the company has had to make mobile a more central focus of its strategy to reach consumers. “All of this is increasingly accessed via mobile.”

Mobile has become such a key channel for video content that at the end of last year, StudioCanal launched a premium TV series that was filmed specifically for mobile in a “10×10” format – that is, ten episodes, each with a ten-minute running time.

John Martin, chairman and CEO of Turner, agreed that “all of this is going mobile-first in terms of mentality,” and said his company is looking at shorter-form content for mobile, with a focus on specific types of content that work better on mobile – namely, kids’ programs, sports and news. “We’ve found that you have to program CNN differently for Snapchat than you do for linear.”

There has been a long-running debate regarding mobile video as to what kinds of videos consumers would want to watch on a small screen – i.e. will they watch cinematic blockbusters or would they rather watch snackable videos of the YouTube variety? At one point, there was talk of creating video content specifically for mobile – to include a rulebook for how to script something for a small screen (i.e. lots of close-ups, no extended shaky-cam action shots, etc).

However, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, when asked about how well Netflix content translates to mobile during a keynote interview at MWC17 on Monday, said he didn’t see any reason to design content specific to a mobile format.

“We don’t think about that – we focus on the characters and stories to create something compelling enough that you’d want to watch it on any screen,” he said, adding that the quality of mobile device screens has improved to the point where the picture still looks good enough.

The shift to digital is even changing the relationship between content producers and their viewers. John Martin, chairman and CEO of Turner, said that his company’s experience has been similar to Vivendi’s in that they have to focus on delivering a good and consistent customer experience across different channels, and giving them as much control as possible.

He also said that even the way they engage customers has changed. “We’re not really looking for casual viewers – we’re after the passionate fans, the ones who really love our content and want to get in anywhere. That also means we have to go where the consumers are, so we go to Facebook, to Snapchat, etc.”

Martin said that customer engagement will evolve further with the introduction of big data analytics and machine learning, “so we can anticipate what they want to see and deliver that to them.”

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