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Telco-OTT innovation

by Digital Studio Middle East Staff on Jun 14, 2017

The OTT communications model is gradually moving towards a revenue generation model for both telcos and OTT players.
The OTT communications model is gradually moving towards a revenue generation model for both telcos and OTT players.

The experts

Jonathan Haysom, Vice President, Home Product Marketing, Etisalat

Malek Hammoud, Executive Director, Strategy & Business Development, Zain Group

Christian Bartosch, Associate Director, Boston Consulting Group Middle East

Maaz Sheikh, Co-founder & CEO of Starz Play Arabia

Carlos Tibi, Founder & CEO, icflix

DB: How can telcos and OTT players collaborate better than the current scenario?

Christian Bartosch: An approach to consider is to create two-sided business model, which will allow the operator to invest in the capacity and speed required to deliver good services to customers. Further, OTTs can work closely with operators to enable traffic management and content caching, rather than delivering mostly encrypted content to the operator’s network.

Jonathan Haysom: OTT providers today are looking for telco partners with scale, reach, reliability as well as best-in-class networks to ensure their products are usable and enjoyable. We actively seek out partners from the OTT world that provide opportunities for mutual growth.

Some of our partners want to be brought directly into our eLife TV ecosystem to leverage our reach and become part of our award winning content line-up while some partners are hosted at our data centres to ensure world class streaming performance for their end users. On top of that we also have our own OTT service, eLifeOn, which extends our eLife TV experience to mobiles, tablets and TVs across the UAE. For partners on our TV platform who don’t have OTT reach we are able to deliver that for them via this service.

Malek Hammoud: Today, digital disruption is a reality that transforms customers’ needs and preferences in light speed. People are moving towards more unified products and service offerings across multiple digital verticals where quality and speed becomes the ultimate factor of choice. Given this fact, neither the telcos nor the OTT players can stay long without the other. In this context, I can say there is a good traction in telco & OTT collaboration, yet it is still far from being sufficient to maximise the value for all stakeholders.

Carlos Tibi: OTT players have come to stay and telcos have started to realise that partnering is the way forward. The first step is to measure and understand the customers. Having this information will allow telcos to make better decisions about improving an existing service or creating a new one. Network operators need to adopt big data in order to continue in the data-driven decision era. Telcos will need to simplify their product line-ups, digitise their networks and operations and consolidate to gain scale and capabilities. Telcos also need to stay one step ahead and embrace technological innovations and digital trends to stay ahead in this competitive and fast-moving market.

Maaz Sheikh: The relationship between telcos and OTTs is a very natural one. Telcos provide three things to this relationship - the infrastructure for delivery, the billing capability, and they provide a brand and trusted relationship. The only thing they lack is a service with content and that’s where the OTT operator comes in.  We work with 14 telecom operators in the MENA region, so we are seeing very strong opportunities to work with them. And we see the telcos delivering the right things in terms of all those three capabilities.

DB: Can we look forward to a unified platform with offerings from various OTT players offered as a customisable service by telco operators? Will OTT players be okay to partner with other OTT players for this?

Bartosch: We are seeing this in place to some extent from content delivery network (CDN) providers such as Akamai. However, the larger tier 1 OTTs such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Netflix are aiming towards control of the e2e traffic to ensure a competitive advantage rather than cooperating with competition.

Haysom: Customers seek out simplicity as lives become busier and more complex.  Multiple apps aren’t conducive to simplicity. As an aggregator with our eLife TV service we are in a unique position to bring as many content partners on-board to deliver a holistic and simple entertainment platform for subscribers. We are able to deliver premium entertainment services on a single IPTV platform already and we aim to continue to simplify and delight our customers with this approach in our OTT environment.

Hammoud: Given the existing competition and fragmentation of the market for OTT players, I see it very unlikely to happen in the short term. Yet, I believe consolidation will be inevitable around OTT products and services under unified platforms due to consistent changes in technology (e.g blockchain, and Web 3.0) and evolving customer needs and preferences. Undoubtedly, telecom operators need significant transformation to become the optimum resort for this unification.

Sheikh: Yes, I think OTT players should be open to doing this because this is the right thing for the consumer. Some telecom operators are already doing that. If you look at E-life service for example, in the UAE, it offers a transactional video-on-demand service, but then it also offers StarzPlay on the same platform, so the customer can choose between Etisalat’s VoD services, or StarzPlay.  So, Etisalat is already doing this and I think we will see more and more of such offerings in the coming times.

Tibi: We are slowly seeing this being adopted in the region, for instance Ooredoo has launched the region’s first 4K TV service into a single STB offering apps, on-demand services and live TV via the company’s fibre network and in-home Wi-Fi to multiple screens, thus giving customers a wider choice of content to choose from.


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