By Shaun Lim
For many viewers in Singapore, StarHub has been synonymous with pay-TV in the country, particularly in the early 2000s, when the telco acquired Singapore Cable Vision (SCV) in 2001 and became the sole pay-TV operator in the country for six years.
Today, while the brand remains one of the most recognisable in Singapore and the region, StarHub is beginning to steer away from its traditional pay-TV connotations.
“We are at an inflection point for entertainment, with the advent of 5G, digital distribution platforms and new content business models changing content consumption habits,” explained Johan Buse, Chief, Consumer Business Group, StarHub.
In an exclusive interview with APB+, he shared, “We serve a wide mix of customers, some of whom favour linear TV with viewing periods of about three hours daily, while younger consumers spend an increasing amount of time on other screens and on-demand content.
“Another trend we see becoming a norm is time- and place-shifting, whereby consumers want to playback shows they missed and stream content uninterrupted as they hop from one device to another.”
To address these shifts and meet the needs of increasingly diversified consumers, StarHub decided this August to rename this line of business as ‘Entertainment’, which accounts for its integration of over-the-top (OTT) and linear offerings.
As of 30 June 2021, total ‘Entertainment’ subscribers stood at 388,000, representing a year-on-year increase of 15.9%, Buse reported, while highlighting how StarHub had already begun to integrate OTT and linear into a single entertainment platform with the introduction of StarHub TV+in 2020.
“This hybrid offering [StarHub+] allows customers to shift their viewing time, as well as watch everything across any screen they prefer,” he said. “Through their phones, TVs and browsers alike, our customers can stream shows from Disney+, Netflix, Hotstar and HBO GO, and at any time, switch to linear programmes.”
Thriving in a congested direct-to-consumer space
When Disney announced earlier this year that it will be pulling out 13 pay-TV channels in Singapore, it is perhaps symptomatic of an increasingly saturated direct-to-consumer (D2C) space. While acknowledging the sheer number of content options available to consumers today, Buse believes StarHub has a distinct advantage over its competitors.
He explained, “Customers tend to gravitate towards the brands they trust and having built a relationship with customers for the past 21 years, this is where we fit in nicely. Knowing that ease of use is important for our customers, we have become the super aggregator of all things entertainment.”
Besides StarHub TV+ offering a single platform to discover, consume and subscribe to OTT and linear content bundles that include access to Disney+ and Netflix at no extra charge, StarHub’s delivery of an offline experience is also unparalleled, Buse asserted.
“Unlike OTT providers, we provide the human touch through our network of retail stores, 24/7 hotline and technical experts called Hub Troopers, on top of digital support through the My StarHub app, WhatsApp and social media channels,” he said.
In response to an increasing shift towards on-demand viewing, StarHub also adjusted its content acquisition strategy in 2018, when content re-negotiations with content partners moved towards a variable cost model.
Buse continued, “Adopting a more responsive business model is essential to us delivering the most relevant services and the best deals to our customers. All in all, our focus is to drive differentiated, enriching experiences for our customers, from operating the fastest network to enabling them to enjoy everything on any screen.”
5G opens the door to new content experience journey
For the majority of on-demand viewers, network latency remains a constant peeve, which 4G has failed to entirely eradicate. This goes some way to explain why the launch of 5G in Singapore, led by StarHub in August 2020, has left many consumers excited about the possibilities.
While 4G popularised video streaming in the entertainment space, 5G will open the door to faster access, bigger libraries, and innovative ways of content delivery and consumption, said Buse. Reporting “healthy take-up” of StarHub’s 5G services since launch, he added, “While on 5G, our customers are streaming a wider range of shows, for longer and at higher qualities, driving further growth in content appetite and data consumption.”
As the “best-ever connectivity backbone”, StarHub also believes that 5G will encourage the adoption of more high-bandwidth services, as well as introducing richer and more immersive ways of enjoying content, including augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
Describing 5G as “more than just a network” and key to providing consumers with a world-class personal digital experience, Buse added, “We are focused on building a real 5G ecosystem – products, services, applications, and devices, to drive adoption and customer value.
“In our recent boost to 5G standalone for customers, we rolled out a complete package of services that include 5G SIM cards, plans and phones, roaming, streaming and cloud gaming.”
He was also quick to point out that, as part of StarHub’s new ‘Entertainment’ offering, a key focus is to redefine the meaning of entertainment to encompass not only content in the form of shows and movies, but also to integrate areas such as cloud gaming.
“With the ultra-fast processing speed of 5G, we expect gaming in the cloud to take off, as it becomes accessible to more people who may not want to invest in expensive gaming rigs. We want to give our customers more content and new ways of enjoying it across multiple screens.”
For a monthly fee of SGD$11.99, StarHub customers who subscribe to GeForce NOW Powered by StarHub, a newly-launched cloud gaming service, can enjoy a vast library of over 1,000 games from over 300 publishers. The service is also available to non-Starhub customers.
Buse concluded, “These are the initial steps of our new DARE+ transformation from Quad-Play to Infinity-Play with an endless continuum of connectivity, OTT streaming entertainment, cloud gaming and digital solutions.
“We will share more about our DARE+ strategy in November 2021, so watch this space!”
Question: While embracing a more responsive business model to deliver differentiated, enriching experiences to consumers at affordable rates is the way to go, content remains king. In the battle for eyeballs, what else can operators like StarHub do to survive and thrive?
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