Keeping content partners happy

Susana Schwartz
Billing and OSS Supplement

Customer centricity applies to more than just retail customers now that operators have to lure and maintain a growing number of hard-to-please content providers, whose loyalties are linked to the ease with which they can do business and the revenue they generate partnering with different players.

In emerging countries like China and India, it is the telecom operators that are among the fastest growing companies - a trend that can continue if they are diligent and smart in how they manage their key partnerships as content grows in importance.
The growing number of content developers, aggregators, apps store owners, sponsors, advertisers, and even other operators, means the days of using Excel spreadsheets and manual processes to manage partner settlement and content management are coming to an end.

Operators in the next 12 to 18 months will be dealing with hundreds and even thousands of partners - each of which will be incentivized daily by a growing number of "suitors" promising better revenue shares, sophisticated discounting schemes and specialized rating. With each of their partnerships, operators will have to accommodate what can be literally millions of events per settlement cycle.

Operators can either become overwhelmed and fail to deliver the type of experience subscribers want, or they can strive to become "enablers" in the much-touted two-sided business model, where operators provide the types of information and services other stakeholders cannot - using partnerships to appeal to the masses, or to niches deep in the long tail.

According to Tata Consulting Services' Shanky Viswanathan, who heads telecom services, there are two main categories of content into which operators can compete: emerging retail apps (iPhone, Google apps) and more mature content (movies and movie trailers, songs, sports clippings, adult content). Depending on how much revenue operators want to generate and how much they want to control in terms of brand and customer experience, Viswanathan sees several into which service providers will play.

"In strata 1 operators are the backbone, spectrum and bandwidth, as well as working to monetize voice and data for customers," says Viswanathan.

"In strata 2, operators act as content aggregators, using their brands to market the content of partners." Here, he notes, there are more challenges in terms of "owning" the customer assurance and customer experience. "In strata 3, operators have a futuristic view of content and monetize the most out of the content backbone. They buy content from major studios or labels and other providers. They host and manage the content through DRM and DAM (digital asset management) solutions, and they leverage the full-quad play services backbone to disseminate content through multiple end-user touch points. They can price the content, influence the service assurance and customer experience and have a clear cut into the major revenue streams."

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