Ben Kinealy speaks about the new exciting end-to-end video solution the firm is about to launch. He believes this can be a unique differentiator for telcos to march ahead profitably in an OTT-crowded world
Conceived as a digital content company, Intigral was established in 2009 as a joint venture between Saudi Telecom Company (STC) and the Malaysian media conglomerate, All Asia Networks (ASTRO). Initial responsibilities of the firm were limited to managing the content operations of Invision- STC’s IPTV service, and VAS services for mobile operators across the region.
Of late, the company has undergone a transformation from a service provider to a product company boasting of excellence in delivering a rich media experience for telcos and PayTV operators alike. The firm’s soon to be launched video product comes with a promise to provide carriers and broadcasters with a full service, turnkey solution for state-of-the-art video delivery. With a proven capability of managing full spectrum IPTV services, Intigral is all set to deliver an enterprise level platform with end-to-end service management from content acquisition through to in-life operations.
Delving into the market dynamics of telcos worldwide, Kinealy draws attention to the fact that in spite of spending a lot of money in traditional video technologies, telcos worldwide are yet to completely reap the benefits of video solutions. Though some operators might be making some money, given the enormous investments that have gone into it, most are not viable in the short term. To make matters worse, the rapid surge of the popularity of OTT players has created benchmarks that the telcos find tough to match up with their existing set of capabilities and offerings. This is where Intigral saw a gap in the market for a solution to bring the competitive advantages of OTT content to the telcos in a fashion that not just delivers a rich digital experience to the customers but also creates a win-win situation for the telcos and their stakeholders in the digital ecosystem.
As Kinealy says, the market needed someone to deliver not just a technical solution/product but also have the full operations and also the ability to acquire content and market that content so that the telco could focus entirely on its core services, without losing out on a rich media experience for its customers. This is where Intigral is trying to position itself. The new solution being offered is an end-to-end video solution that can be IPTV or OTT or both (depending on the telco’s technicalities and permissions) - a high quality product that allows one to just plug in to the existing network and play on a whole wide range of rich video on demand and live TV along with several other value added features. The advantages that Intigral believes this will bring to the telcos include a better product offering, faster time to market, constant evolution of the solution, more services at less costs and not to forget, added benefits without the pressure of extra stress of management.
Other solutions from the Intigral launchpad
In the past, Intigral has successfully created a sports application named Dawri Plus with the exclusive rights for IP delivery of Saudi football. The app hit a million STC registered customers and 2 million downloads. Kinealy tells us they regularly hit over 240,000 viewers per game watching on their devices at the same time. Apart from that, Intigral also built a music app called Sultn, however as Kinealy says, it’s very difficult to make money out of music apps in this region. The music app industry hasn’t made much leeway so far in the Middle East.
The idea is to attract more customers to the telco by offering them unique media experiences they can’t get from elsewhere. As Kinealy explains, the idea is to make Intigral a centre of excellence when it comes to IP video delivery. So, is it just about delivering videos or is there more to it?
Beyond good video offerings
As Kinealy tells us, the monitoring solutions help them see the usage of their video solution by the users- they can see what the user is watching and on which device. Every button click of the user is documented on the monitoring server. This is done not to check on the viewers but to ensure that the services delivered across multiple devices are of good quality. However, the information about viewers’ viewing preferences can be manipulated to conduct targeted advertising that can create a win-win situation for all the parties – the telcos, Intigral and the advertisers who wish to reach a specific audience.
Partnerships for success
Apart from STC, Intigral also has worked and collaborated with other telocs like VIVA Bahrain, VIVA Kuwait, du etc. The firm has VAS relations with 11 telcos in the region. Amongst the broadcasters, Intigral has worked closely with OSN, MBC and is also planning to collaborate with Starz. The interesting positioning of Intigral makes it well placed to talk to both content and broadcasting arms as well as the telcos.
The market dynamics
After listening about the video solution in detail, one can’t help but ponder at the market potential of such a solution in this market. But then, undeniably almost everybody watches TV and/or video. This region has one of the highest watch rates of YouTube and other online video services. Online video is only going to get bigger and bigger. Kinealy remarks: “At the moment 65% of network usage is video. We are predicting that will go up as high as 90% within five years.” Hence, data usage will also be expanding exponentially. According to Kinealy, one of the telcos had its data usage expand by 500% within one year.
Video is definitely hot topic but the main goal for a telco should be to use video in a way that not only the customers are benefited but the telco creates added revenue streams as well. Kinealy believes that video is going to be a massive part of the future of all telcos. “Those telcos who embrace video not only as a product but understand how to manage that data flow and then use that to sell their core services as well as reduce their cost structure in my belief will be in a better position going forward in the future. ”
“Video on demand is skyrocketing in its popularity too”, adds Kinealy. With big players like Apple, Sony, and the social media giants like Facebook and Twitter betting on the field, it’s going to be an exciting era up ahead. But that again will have a lot of implications for the telcos since they will be hit with huge amounts of added traffic. Unless they develop new ways to monetise the new trends among consumers, they might be left behind. This is again where Kinealy thinks the solution from Intigral can give the needed boost to the telcos. “We are trying to create a product to help telcos create their own attractive offering to monetise OTT content and give an apt answer for the attack from the OTT players and also come up with a solution to manage the huge amount of data pressure arising from the OTT content flowing over their networks. Telcos have to learn how to work with and take advantage of video; otherwise they lose.”
Pebbles along the way
In the midst of all the excitement around OTT, video, analytics, it’s worth pausing to take stock of the challenges along the way. Since videos are quite data heavy in nature, it’s needless to say that more robust and faster networks will make the path easier for videos to reach customers in the best way. Moreover, Kinealy draws attention to the fact that there’s so much free-to-air content available that in a way comes in the way of the paid content. But he believes, if people are made aware about the good quality and quantity of content they can be provided by paid services, the situation can surely change in favour of the telcos and PayTV providers. He also calls for more local content and stricter regulations in place to track down on piracy. Another interesting thing Kinealy points out is the under-priced nature of the advertising industry in the region. “The industry should free up a little more. Proper use of big data and real time analytics will improve the CPM rates of ads and then may be more money will start flowing in.”
What’s up next?
Intigral believes its new product offering comes with the capability to take the firm not just to more regions in the MEA but also to countries in Europe, Asia and Americas. However, the firm is focussed on the region for now and working around delivering a couple of big success stories before crossing shores. Kinealy reveals the company has shared its first deal with a carrier outside of Saudi Arabia. Apart from the video product which features on the top of the firm’s focus list, Intigral is also looking into other areas like mobile money, digital advertising, and enterprise video.
When asked about the level of control STC has on the working of the company, Kinealy says, Intigral functions as an independent company as such. The board features STC representatives who wish to see the firm delivering value through its product offerings, plus STC surely looks up to the firm for numbers.
With the transition of Intigral from a content company to a centre of excellence for rich media is surely an exciting chapter. Positioning itself as a well-rounded digital product company, Intigral wishes to help telcos across the region differentiate their core offerings with rich media experience and monetise newer sources of revenues. “We are going to make an enterprise grade digital media solution for telcos that will allow them to go forward in an OTT world,” Kinealy says.
The solution under spotlight
The new video product from Intigral will be launched with a major telco in the region tentatively in Q3 this year. The concept relies on the telco already having a relationship with the customer. Users can pull the product straight out of the box and have it up and running with video on demand and pay-TV within less than five minutes. On top of that, the product comes with an extremely intuitive user interface (UI). Kinealy tells us the team has put in a lot of effort into designing of the UI so that it not only looks nice but is extremely simple to use. Few of the several features of the UI are live TV, video on demand, log of watched history, recommendations for viewing based on previous history and promotional offers.
The Live TV comes with several options and allows one to watch the TV programmes from where they prefer to. In addition, one can easily manoeuvre across the UI to choose to watch a programme that features before or even after the current time period. All the listed TV programmes can be watched just like independent videos without having to miss any part. Such kind of efficiency has been made possible by the usage of adaptive technology. The video on demand feature has two parts- one is the customary video on demand and the other is the premium section. For example, since in the KSA, there are no theatres, the premium section will release new movies on the TV on the same day they are released in the UAE and interested viewers can pay and get the theatre experience delivered to the comfort of their living rooms. In addition to all these features, the UI offers options for discovery of new movies and shows based on your preferences.