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StarHub: If you can’t beat them, join them — integrate linear and OTT into single TV service

By Shaun Lim

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch once described sports as the “battering ram” that will drive all the pay-TV operations under his watch, and he was not wrong. For many years, operators around the world were able to sell lucrative pay-TV packages because of one key offering: LIVE Sports.

Fast forward to 2022 however, and it now appears that Murdoch’s metaphorical battering ram is beginning to splinter and break apart.

According to a report released last year by Grabyo, a browser-based live video production suite that works with sports and social media entities to distribute over-the-top (OTT) and digital content, a staggering 79% of global sports fans would gladly choose online streaming to watch their favourite sporting events, if given a choice.

The numbers make grim reading for traditional pay-TV operators, with Grabyo also predicting that by 2026, the broadcast TV market will only have a 28% customer share of global sports fans.

What then, can pay-TV operators do to reverse the loss of customers through an increasing frequency of cord-cutting?

The answer may be more rudimentary than many would think: If you can’t beat them, join them.

StarHub launches linear-OTT service

Having secured exclusive broadcast rights to the English Premier League (EPL) for the first time in 12 years, Singapore telco and pay-TV operator StarHub made a surprising announcement that the EPL would soon be available to sports fans to stream live on the StarHub TV+ OTT service.

For StarHub customers who sign up before 30 June 2022, the Premier+ service costs SG$19.99 per month (Usual: $24.99); for non-StarHub customers, the standalone service is available for $34.99 (Usual: $39.99) a month. 

For the thousands of fanatical football fans in Singapore who previously had to pay substantial subscriptions to access EPL matches via a pay-TV package consisting of content they may not even necessarily be interested in, the cost of StarHub’s non-contractual offering is, for all intents and purposes, a pittance.

Away from the attractive pricing however, Premier+ represents how StarHub has adapted to meet the changes in viewing habits, argued Johan Buse, Chief, Consumer Business Group, StarHub.

“A trend we identified a few years back was time- and place-shifting, whereby customers want to playback shows they missed and stream content seamlessly from one device to another,” Buse told APB+

“To meet this change in viewing habits, we embarked on our TV transformation journey in 2020 and became the first in Singapore to integrate OTT and linear into a single entertainment platform.

“Named StarHub+, our hybrid offering allows customers to shift their viewing time and watch programmes on any device, regardless of their broadband or mobile service provider.”

Guided by the DARE+ five-year transformation roadmap, StarHub has been moving towards its “Infinity Play” strategy, where an infinite continuum of OTT streaming entertainment, connectivity, cloud gaming, and digital solutions are offered to customers.

In less than two years, StarHub has aggregated an extensive library of 11 OTT streaming services featuring stellar brands such as Disney+, Netflix, and Viu. As of 31 March 2022, StarHub’s total Entertainment subscribers grew by 74,000 year-on-year and 6,000 quarter-on-quarter, lifted by transactions for OTT propositions.

StarHub’s OTT segment saw revenues rose 3.9% year-on-year to $47.2 million from $45.4 million for the same period, Buse reported.

With Singapore home to some of the most fervent EPL supporters to be found in Asia, StarHub is already seeing “enthusiastic reception” to Premier+. The regaining of EPL broadcast rights and how the content is made available to fans, could yet prove to be a real feather in the cap for StarHub.

Buse said, “Premier+ fits nicely into our ‘Infinity Play’ journey and we want to make the Premier League available to all, through lower prices, new technology and immersive features, and flexibility without contracts.

“We are redefining what entertainment means to customers and will continue to strive to remain as our customers’ trusted brand and deliver them the best viewing experience.”

Premier+ allows communal/interactive viewing

For viewers of an older persuasion, “watching TV” conjures up an image of settling comfortably in a couch, flipping through a printed copy of the TV programme guide as the CRT TV set played on in the background.

While transmission devices have now evolved into slick LCD or OLED screens, the term “watching TV” is arguably beginning to lose its relevance, as more viewers consume content on a myriad number of devices that are, in the most traditional sense, anything but TV sets.

This in turn, is driving a non-linear viewing trend that traditional operators simply cannot afford to ignore. “Gone are the days when operators could simply air programmes and leave it at that. Today, we need to go a step further by actively innovating and differentiating our products and services,” Buse said.

Of the 450,000 StarHub Entertainment subscribers as of the first quarter of this year, the number of OTT customers continues to rise in proportion to pay-TV customers. Buse explained, “We believe in the massive growth potential of OTT streaming and that customers should be able to access their favourite programmes anytime, anywhere, and across any network.

“This is the case with Premier+, where fans will be in control of their own viewing experience. They will be able to watch ‘live’ Premier League games whenever and wherever they want, crossing boundaries and no longer being stuck to the TV set in their living rooms.”

Providing more insights into StarHub’s strategy to retain eyeballs in an increasingly saturated content market, Buse highlighted the importance of offering a wide range of affordable content through exclusive multi-year partnerships with the likes of Disney+, Netflix, beIN, and the EFL.

He explained, “By carefully curating various Entertainment bundles according to customers’ viewing needs, we ensure that they are competitively priced while still reflecting the value of coverage.”

Technology is also a key differentiator, particularly when it comes to sports viewing, which revolves around the passion of fans and communal viewing. To leverage this, StarHub created immersive new features that tap into the full potential of new streaming technology, offering a fresh and interactive viewing experience for Premier+ subscribers.

These include Party Watch, which allows fans to virtually invite friends to watch and discuss a live match in real-time. Another feature, Club Pages, allows fans to customise their user interface with their favourite Premier League team.

“To stay attuned to our customers’ viewing needs, we remain open to their feedback while keeping a constant pulse on the market.

“We were aware that some customers missed catching the Premier League on StarHub, so we rekindled our partnership with the Premier League and worked to acquire broadcast rights … so customers can once again enjoy this fan-favourite content,” said Buse.

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