15Sep/140

Alain Le Diberder, Arte:”The video game industry is facing a deep shift of its main business model”

Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 94

 

alain-lediberder-arte
Alain Le Diberder - ARTE,
Managing director 
and head of programs, Strasbourg, France

Conducted by Laurent MICHAUD, IDATE, Montpellier, France

 

 

C&S:How do you see the video game industry today?
Alain LE DIBERDER: The industry is facing a deep shift of its main business model. It’s not a problem of overall market size. Even if the macroeconomic environment is rather dull, even if the new mobile market works with very low price levels, most of the firms are able to adapt themselves to the new revenue framework. Instead the main issue is the changes needed in the corporate organizations. Yesterday, AAA products were king and the sales department was king of the AAA market. Today the whole process starting from an idea and ending in an actual consumer needs to be reshaped. Unfortunately marketing, technology and price policy are far more flexible than human behavior.

C&S:Video games are reaching their full potential online with multiplayer or massively multiplayer, social, viral, flash and ubiquitous components. What do these developments inspire for you?
A.L.D: All these technologies are impressive and improving very quickly. But I’m not sure that they actually drive the industry to a new era. Videogamers were “social” from the start, and videogames were “viral” far before Facebook or Tweeter. Even in the Eighties, schools and universities were an effective “social media” in which gamers and game reputations were debated, built and destroyed. And they still are. The new phenomenon is that the “social” dimension is now included in the code. And there are opportunities to make money with it. But the videogame industry, for the moment, is not able to catch the main part of this market, which is dominated by “transversal” companies like Facebook, Twitter, Apple and so on.

C&S:What are the effects of globalization on the creation of content, on the creators?
A.L.D:The videogame industry is probably the first entertainment business being born global. The movie industry was partly global relatively soon (say around 1910), but even today national and regional components remain important. It’s the same for music industry. The reason why the videogame industry is different is quite simple: during the first ten years of its history, there was barely no text inside the games. Remember Pong, Pacman, Space Invaders, or even the first Mario. Without any words the only text to be translated was the cartridge sleeve or the instruction sheet on the arcade cabinet. The need for text and localization only came with PC games in the eighties, but it was too late for local cultures: the industry DNA was definitively global. Even the word “localization” tells the truth. The industry can’t be more global than it was at its birth, and the only thing that could happen in the future is less globalization, not more. But it probably won’t.

C&S:Hardware vs. software: are home consoles set to disappear in favor of streamed games? More generally, won't hardware be reduced to a "stupid” screen?
A.L.D:I don’t believe that the console industry holds a strong future. Consoles are expensive, non-durable and challenged pieces of hardware. Competition from set-top boxes and mobile devices is stronger and stronger. But hardware won’t be reduced to a stupid screen. There is a bright future for hardware if you compare the specifications (and price) of a present smartphone to those of a home computer or a home console from ten years ago. Hardware is more and more smart, not stupid. In fact the new hardware standards and the telecommunication networks live together in an ecosystem in which smart networks need smart home equipments, not dumb.

C&S:Oculus Rift, Google Glass, holographic technology ... what do you think the next disruptive gaming experience will be?
A.L.D:I can’t see such a thing as a disruptive technology in the videogame history. Technology is an additive process in the videogame industry not a subtractive one. For instance when the home console began, in 1974, the arcade market didn’t disappear. The computer games started slowly at the end of the seventies and added their sales to the console market. When the PC market was mature, in the beginning of the nineties, the console market exploded too in the 16 bits era. Online games began to be popular before the web. I remember having wasted many hours playing Microprose Grand Prix on line in 1992 with a 14.4kbs modem. Today the online market is strong, but more than 20 years after, between 60 and 80% of the overall market, depending on what you consider as a videogame « sale » is still offline. We could also think of 3D games, Virtual reality helmets, streamed games and so on. But the truth is that during 40 years many technologies have been introduced, many have failed (especially with 3D, beware Oculus!) and many have contributed to the Harlequin suit in which the videogame industry is dressed.

C&S:What are the issues in which the French industry still needs to progress?
A.L.D:There are French developers, French magazines, excellent French videogame schools, some French companies, but the “French industry” doesn’t exist. Of course there is Ubi Soft. But Ubi began to develop games in Asia or Morocco 25 years ago, and regarding the workforce, is more a Canadian company than a French one. Vivendi invested in big US companies but they remained American companies reporting to French shareholders. And Vivendi sold the main part of the shares to Activision. Infogrames bought many British and American companies and the glorious brand of Atari, but it failed. From the beginning, the golden era of Ere Informatique or Loriciels, the French (little) companies have always sold more than 80% of their products in the world market. Almost all the titles, such as “Another World” or “Alone in the Dark” were in English, even in the French market. Many French guys have succeeded in the videogames industry, but as it’s a global industry, they were and still are involved in a non-national world. A national videogame industry is a nonsense, except maybe in Asia.

C&S:What remains for us to (re) invent in terms of gaming experience?
A.L.D:Maybe the next frontier could be the physical experience. The Wiimote and the Ki-nect were a first step, and now the “connected object” is blooming. It will probably take time, but I feel that the gamification of personal care is a strong trend.

Alain LE DIBERDER holds a Ph.D. in Economics. After advising French Minister of Culture Jack Lang (1989-1991), he moved to France Télévision under CEO Hervé Bourges (1991-1994) and then on to Canal + as Head of New Programmes (1994-2000), while he contributed to establishing several landmark cultural portals. He created Allociné TV, a channel devoted entirely to cinema, in 2010, and joined Arte as Head of Programmes on 1 January 2013. He has published several books and papers on digital technology and the media.

8Sep/140

VOD: a new distribution window just for Direct To Own as a growth relay

Gilles Fontaine
Gilles FONTAINE

Deputy Managing Director
Director of TV & Digital Content Business Unit

While DVD revenue continues its inexorable decline, transactional video – i.e. streaming and downloading to rent (DTR) or own (DTO) – is only barely picking up the slack. Online video rental cannot single-handedly offset the drop in DVD sales and rental.

So studios are focusing their energy on creating a new distribution window just for Direct To Own, also known as electronic sell through (EST), which falls before not only VoD rental (Direct To Rent) but also two to four weeks before any type of DVD release.

They are also imposing a window between online sales and online rentals. This new approach, which was introduced in late 2012, appears to be giving EST a boost. While VoD rentals are growing slowly (no doubt due in part to competition from SVoD), online sales are enjoying a solid uptick.

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8Sep/140

TV viewers in the US watch fewer than 10% of the channels available to them

Antoine-Klifa-Idate-150px

Antoine Klifa
Consultant at IDATE

TV households in the United States still watch an average of 17 channels, despite steady increase in the number to choose from.

 

The high price of cable pay-TV packages in the United States is justified in part by the huge number of channels they include, even with basic packages. This pay-TV model operates under a system of bundles, i.e. subscriptions to popular channels are usually bundled with a host of less popular ones.

Under this model, it can be more expensive and harder for a customer to subscribe to a single premium channel rather than a whole package. This especially interesting when we know that TV households in the United States only watch an average 17 channels from among the host available to them.

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This stagnation in the number of channels that users actually tune in to underscores to some degree that specific content is more important than choice. Moreover, Internet technologies have bolstered the development of on-demand viewing. Now that users have more and more ways to access programmes, they also want to be able to access them on their own terms (à la carte) rather than be beholden to their multichannel video programming distributors’ (MVPD, aka pay-TV providers) commercially-motivated decisions.
To adapt to these new behaviours, MVPD are gradually starting to test new products that meet the needs of these “never cords” and “cord-shavers”. America’s leading cable company, Comcast, thus tested a temporary plan that included Internet access, access to its Xfinity Streampix streaming service and premium channel HBO. The plan was launched at around $50, which is well below the price that most users pay for a complete pay-TV package.

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8Sep/140

Electronic distribution helping households save on entertainment

Alexandre JOLINAlexandre JOLIN
Consultant at IDATE

Average household spending on cultural goods worldwide decreased from €75.50 to €71.60 between 2010 and 2013

 

Electronic distribution allows households to spend less on any cultural products they buy or rent individually. The gap in price is especially significant in those industries where the cost of producing a hard copy heavily influences its retail price.

As a result, between 2010 and 2013, average household spending on cultural goods worldwide decreased from €75.50 to €71.60 a year. This figure nevertheless includes sizeable regional disparities:
• in North America, average annual spending on all types of content combined has actually increased, going from €327.30 per household in 2012 to €328.40 in 2013;
• households in Asia/Pacific and Latin America are also spending more, with average entertainment budgets rising, respectively, from €35.80 per household/year to €39.10 per household/year, and from €31.70 per household/year to €34.10 per household/year between 2010 and 2013;
• meanwhile Europe and Africa/the Middle East are reporting a sizeable decrease in average household spending on cultural products: -10.6% and -15.6%, respectively, over the past three years.

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2Sep/140

Future TV in 2025 : 3 scenarios for TV in the personal media era

Gilles Fontaine
Gilles FONTAINE

Deputy Managing Director
Director of TV & Digital Content Business Unit

At a time when Netflix is shaking up classic video distribution models, IDATE is delivering an analysis of ongoing disruptions in TV content distribution.

The television industry is having to contend with a major game changer, namely increasingly individualised viewing. This change is upending the industry’s longstanding mass media model, but also paving the way for new business models and a new period of growth.

Individual TV viewing also represents a dual opportunity: to transform the household market into individual markets, and to capitalise on the shift from mass advertising to more relevant targeted advertising.

This growing individualisation is part of the "cloudification" of the technical chain that makes it possible to better serve multi-network and multi-device behaviours, and of the process of adapting services to find the right interplay between linear and on-demand TV, to re-monetise catch-up TV, and to develop the SVoD and electronic sell-through (EST) markets.

IDATE has developed three scenarios to describe and quantify the potential impact of this tremendous change in video content markets:

a growth scenario: "the new golden age" where the increasing individualisation of video consumption and Internet access leads to the creation of a market for individual subscriptions, and where video – both linear and on-demand – becomes a medium of choice for advertisers;
a scenario of stagnation: “business as usual” wherein pay-TV plans remain largely monolithic, where on-demand products hold little appeal and TV’s ad revenue suffers from advertisers moving a portion of their spending over to the Web;
a negative scenario of "commoditisation," characterised by an accelerated migration from a paid to a free model, and TV losing its relevance as an advertising medium.

The three TV/video market development scenarios applied to the US (billion €)

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29Aug/140

Interview with Daniel KAPLAN, Business Developer Mojang, Stockholm, Sweden

Published in COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES No. 94, 2nd Quarter 2014

Video game business models and monetization

 

Daniel-Kaplan-Business-Developper

Daniel KAPLAN, Business Developer at Mojang

Conducted by Peter ZACKARIASSON, University of Gothenburg, Sweden

 

 

C&S:  Minecraft is, by any standard, a very successful game. How much of this success do you ascribe to your business model?
Daniel KAPLAN: I think it played quite a big role since it was discounted for quite a long time. The game was discounted from day one, since it was “released” during very early development. The whole idea was to release it early to see if there was an interest and to see if the project could bear fruit. A lot of people who bought it initially, I think, felt that they had somewhat invested into the project and the ones who were on from the beginning made quite a good deal.

C&S: Do Minecraft exploit any specific previous business model, or has it paved its way with a unique model to generate profit?
D.K.: There are other games that were the inspiration for this model, Mount and Blade from TaleWorlds for instance. They also released their game before it was finished for a discounted price and continued the development with the community.

C&S: Today Minecraft has become a phenomenon that is not only tied to the game itself, but there are many physical product spin-offs. How important is this brand extension for Mojang?
D.K.:We are still a game company but it definitely helps. I think there is a fine line in between how much you can do with a brand before it feels too stretched. We try to create merch/products that we would like to have ourselves, rather than try to fill gaps with our brand with various products. It is sure a fine line and I think a brand can be too exposed and become too stretched.

C&S: Is it possible to become too successful? That is, having produced Minecraft – is it possible to repeat that success? What about the next game of Mojang?
D.K.: I think the problem with becoming too successful is that you will always be compared with your success, regardless of what you produce after that. It is important to not lose focus and continue to deliver things regardless of what they are so you don’t stagnate.

I think that it is almost impossible to create a success like Minecraft again. A lof of the “cred” Mojang got was because it was an up and coming company/person during the initial development of Minecraft, and the whole story around Notch (the founder of Mojang) was a classic David and Goliath story, which we can’t reproduce anymore. We have a whole different starting point now in comparison from where we started.

The next game we are working on, Scrolls, is already profitable and was released in a similar manner to Minecraft. We are super happy about the game being profitable even though it is not close to the success of Minecraft. It is a bit silly to try to compete/compare our projects with Minecraft to be honest.

C&S: What directions do you see the video games industry taking when it comes to generating sustainable business models? Last year Minecraft was one of the two pay per play games in the US top 20 mobile games. Not adopting a free to play business model, is it a conviction or the best way to be different within a serious competitive framework?
D.K.:
I don’t know what will happen in the future. You see different trends all the time and you see companies not following the trends and they are successful. I think that the mobile business will continue growing and will continue to have different business models for various types of games or apps. I think it is hard to say that everything will be x or y. Considering the widespread presence of mobile devices, it allows for more niche products too which will let you create products that don’t follow the trends and can still be successful.

Biography
Daniel KAPLAN is Mojang's business developer since October 2010. He was born and raised in Skövde, Sweden. He founded ludiosity.com

For more information about our activities: www.comstrat.org

Contact
COMMUNICATIONS & STRATEGIES
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Managing Editor
s.nigon@idate.org

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26Aug/140

Smart Toys: a new video game market segment

MICHAUD Laurent

Laurent Michaud
Head of Consumer Electronics & Digital Entertainment Practice

Future set to play nice with smart toys: 
a sector forecast to climb to 7.4 billion EUR in 2018.

Smart toys, or app toys, consist of three interconnected elements: a video game, one or more connected objects and a distribution platform with a display. Smart toys now constitute a new market segment, at the cross-section of the video game and toy industries.
Tablets are proving to be a good platform for smart toys to recreate or adapt innovative game concepts and transform existing toys. Smart toys use several technologies that allow the toy to talk to the application: NFC, gesture recognition by camera, static electricity, sound pulses and Bluetooth.

The possible interactions between the three components of video games are inspiring games creators to create new, innovative forms of entertainment, which can be exploited by both video game developers and toy manufacturers in search of new markets. This is why leading toy manufacturers such as Hasbro, Mattel, Lego and Bandai, are gradually embracing them.

Also getting in on the action are video game market players, big and small. Activision Blizzard is one of the pioneers in this area, with its Skylanders series of video games and collectible figurines that interact with a fun app of the same name. As of February 2014, the franchise has generated 2 billion USD and more than 175 million figurines have been sold.

The range of possible combinations between app, object and display device means an equally wide a range of business models, depending on the smart toy creator's core business:
• A toy manufacturer will tend to focus on the object and the business model typically attached to it. This sector is showing no more than 1% growth, so their goal is to capture a share of the video game market by developing smart toys that make better use of the software component. One trump card already in their hands are the licences to popular products;
• A video game publisher and developers will tend to focus on the application, which will be marketed as free-to-play. They have already proven themselves in this segment, but smart toys could well materialize in other kinds of video game, such as sport and action/adventure titles. So there is no shortage of opportunity. Added to which, these new offerings will disrupt the video game value chain, which is dominated by digital content distribution;
• lastly, a pure player from the smart toy sector will opt for a combination of these two approaches.

The outlook for smart toys in this new gaming market is particularly promising: the sector’s worth could climb to 7.4 billion EUR in 2018, compared to 2.2 billion EUR at the end of 2014.
Backed by toy manufacturers, game developers hold the keys to success here, provided they deliver truly innovative gameplay, regardless of the target platform: tablet, smartphone, personal computer or home console.

 Growth-of-global-smart-toy-market-500px

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5Aug/140

Iliad/Free : 15 billions dollars to take the control of T-Mobile US

GASSOT Yves

Yves Gassot
CEO, IDATE

Iliad has made an offer for 15 billions dollars to take control of T-Mobile US at 56,6%. Yves Gassot, IDATE's CEO gives his point of view.

What is the rationale behind the deal?

This is not a typical case of generating synergies by merging two companies operating in the same national market. It will be hard to bank on swift and considerable synergies between a fixed-mobile telco in France and a mobile operator in the United States.

On the other hand, the US market is far more attractive than the French one (short of a major consolidation deal in France which, at this point in time, seems unlikely) and even more attractive than the ailing European market: 9% drop in revenue for operators in Europe’s five biggest markets over the past five years, versus 29% growth in the United States. In addition to revenue, there are sizeable disparities in margins on either side of the Atlantic, due to less fierce competition in the US and no doubt for reasons of scale as well: in each of Europe’s five biggest markets, four mobile operators are competing against each other for an average 63 million customers, compared to the 315 million users in the States. The planned takeover thus serves as a good reflection of the sorry state of Europe’s telecoms market, and the strong momentum that the US market is enjoying (albeit at the expense of American consumers to some degree).

There is also a certain similarity between T-Mobile, the smallest of the four operators in the US, and Free which is a latecomer to the French market: it is still working to catch up on rollouts, and especially on LTE coverage, and to beef up its spectrum assets. It needs to have the lowest costs to be as agile as possible, to shift price points and marketing strategies at will. Here, Deutsche Telekom’s US subsidiary is a perfect match for Free.

And, finally, because Free/Iliad is smaller in size and market valuation than its target acquisition, the deal could confirm an impressive availability of capital that the Altice/Numéricable takeover of SFR first revealed.

Will the deal go through?

At first glance, this would seem to be a financial question above all. Deutsche Telekom is the seller of an operator that it acquired in 2001, and which cost a pretty penny. And a savvy seller at that, as AT&T learned recently, and as Sprint is just now learning… T-Mobile had signed a deal to sell to AT&T, which was ultimately quashed by the FCC and the FTC but which allowed the Deutsche Telekom subsidiary to pocket 3 billion USD and a stash of frequencies, and to jump back in the game by merging with MetroPCS, stepping up its national LTE network rollouts, and engaging in an aggressive but costly marketing strategy. After having taken control of Sprint (third biggest mobile operator in the US) Japan’s Softbank (which is sometimes referred to as the Japanese Free) launched its bid for T-Mobile, and appears to have reached an agreement in principle with Deutsche Telekom. Masayoshi Son’s valuation of T-Mobile is higher and so more attractive for its owner. This is natural since it involves a consolidation (No. 3 +No. 4) which would have an immediate impact on competition, and generate substantial savings for 4G rollouts and on the sales and marketing end of things.

But money alone cannot be the only factor in play: how American authorities will interpret the acceptable limits of mobile market consolidation also needs to be considered. SoftBank/Sprint have not yet managed to persuade the FCC and antitrust authorities that reducing the market to only three national operators would be beneficial to consumers. And this despite a number of speeches from Masayoshi Son who continues to argue that a “consolidated” third operator would be in a much better position to raid the great bastions held today by Verizon and AT&T. If the authorities remain reticent, Free will have a serious opening.

But it may also have to wrangle with other investors, such as Dish Network which has acquired spectrum and which, now that DirecTV is due to be taken over by AT&T, needs to find other ways to grow its business.

Finally, should the deal go through, Free will need to accomplish what Deutsche Telekom began. This is by no means a foregone conclusion, especially when going head to head with companies like Verizon and AT&T that have more than 100 million subscribers to their name, and which post impressive profit margins on a very regular basis. Up until now, and despite its aggressiveness, T-Mobile has not yet managed to make a dent. Especially galling for Masayoshi Son is that it is Sprint which, in this ambiguous stage of it merger with T-Mobile, is the one that has supplied most of the customers that allowed the Deutsche Telekom subsidiary to grow! Free/T-Mobile could of course continue to grow, at the expense of Sprint. But, 1) Sprint, which has not engaged in a price war in recent months, could play its trump card by making a sharp turnaround and 2) there is always the possibility of an investment from Dish, this time in Sprint, and even of a merger between cable giant Comcast (which is currently in the process of merging with Time Warner Cable) and Sprint (through an MVNO agreement that would complete the cable market leaders’ impressive Wi-Fi base). The allocation of AWS3 frequencies in the autumn, and the auctions for second digital dividend spectrum (600 MHz band) scheduled for 2015 will also go some way in determining the market’s future, without us yet knowing for sure whether the FCC will give the smallest operators a leg up.

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31Jul/140

Smart Grid: the smart metering market and beyond

NAKAJIMA_Soichi

Soichi NAKAJIMA, Senior Consultant

Just under 1.4 billion smart meters (electricity, gas and water combined) deployed worldwide in 2018

IDATE reviews the state of smart meter rollouts in various countries (Europe, USA and Japan), which form the first steps of eventual national scale smart grids. Whilst electricity meters are at the forefront of such rollouts, gas and water must also be considered. The drivers and barriers for this market are assessed, and forecasts are made for the number of smart meters to be deployed and the resulting cellular connectivity revenues, up to 2018. Finally, some future paths which may be explored for expansion into smart grids are examined.

IDATE forecasts that there will be a total of just under 1.4 billion smart meters (electricity, gas and water combined) deployed worldwide in 2018, up from roughly 500 million in 2013; a CAGR of 22.7%. Many countries now have regulation in place which targets close to 100% replacement of current ‘dumb’ meters to smart ones by 2020, and such regulations are the primary driver of smart meter rollouts.

The technological composition of communication for smart meters is divided into two main parts; the HAN (or last mile) and the WAN (or backhaul), and the approach differs from country to country. For example, the UK has specified Zigbee as the HAN technology and cellular as the WAN (with the exception of northern GB) for both electricity and gas, whereas in France the technologies specified for electricity and gas differ. In Germany, there are no specific regulations requiring replacing dumb meters with smart ones (just that new meters must be smart), and the technology is for utilities to choose. The main deciding factor for smart metering technology is thus regulation, and if not specified by regulation it is up to the utilities to decide. Whilst most countries have plans for smart electricity meters, there are fewer for gas and for water they are still rare.

There are various technologies which could be deployed for both HAN and WAN, and the main area of interest for telcos lies in providing cellular connectivity for the WAN, with their already-established networks covering large areas of the country. However, they face competition from other technologies such as PLC and RF mesh. Particularly in the USA, RF mesh had been a popular choice due to availability at low costs, whereas cellular proved expensive. However, such cellular prices have now come down significantly, from an ARPU typically over 5 EUR to now 0.5 EUR in some cases. Thus with the price now proving more attractive, telcos are increasingly becoming the WAN technology of choice, which can be expected to remain reliable for the foreseeable future. This is particularly important as the life expectancy of meters is long, in the region of ten years or more. Indeed, smart meter vendors, such as Elster and Silver Spring Networks have shifted their future connectivity plans to cellular as opposed to RF mesh. Finally, the migration to LTE allowing for higher throughput is also a positive factor in the long term when considering the smart grid.

Looking further ahead, smart meters are in fact the first steps of building a national electrical smart grid, on top of which various services and applications can be built upon. This involves various actors along the value chain, from meter vendors to network providers, system integrators and all the way up to the service providers. Here, telcos have the potential of providing ‘smart-grid-as-a-service’ to the utilities; a packaged, end-to-end smart grid solution, where the telco takes care of the overall integration and running of the solution. This is a particularly effective strategy for the medium- and smaller-sized utilities (such as municipalities and co-operative utilities), as they can outsource the large majority of resources and equipment which would simply be too expensive to provide by themselves. Such projects have already started in the USA, since 2013 with AT&T on the one hand and Verizon on the other. Telcos do however face competition from other market players, such as General Electric and Silver Spring Networks which also offer such integrated solutions.

It will also be interesting to monitor entities which offer both utility and connectivity services (such as the triple play of Internet, TV and phone). Such entities tend to be municipalities and regional providers, and do not combine these services. However, as smart metering becomes more standard, there is the potential of packaging these two services (utilities and connectivity) as one, to create advantages over their rivals.

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31Jul/140

A game-changing trio for the telecoms landscape

GASSOT Yves
Yves Gassot
CEO, IDATE

Increased competition, a forced rethink of pricing models and the devastating impact of the economic crisis have weakened Europe’s once thriving telecoms sector

Europe’s telecommunications sector has been the stage for a growing number of merger and acquisition deals in recent months. Deals that are clearly posing a conundrum for regulators and anti-trust authorities, resulting in especially long investigations, and controversial “remedies” for those deals that have been given the green light.

Despite which, virtually all of the parties have by now reached the conclusion that consolidation is inexorable, if not desirable. The sector’s main players have never fully recovered from the aftermath of the Internet bubble and the debt levels that ensued. The increased competition ushered in by new entrants, pricing models that have been destabilised by the arrival of Internet companies offering rival (voice, messaging and video) products, the devastating impact that the economic crisis has had on the countries of southern Europe since 2008… together have weakened Europe’s once thriving telecoms sector. In concrete terms, this has meant a 12.5% drop in revenue for the top five European markets over the past five years, a dramatic decrease in EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) and, quite naturally under these conditions, in lower per capita spending on new generation access networks (fibre, LTE) than in the United States.

So consolidation appears to be a natural response to the situation, a way to put an end to the price wars and stabilise margins. Infrastructure sharing schemes may precede or be part of this consolidation, but unlikely to take its place. If these schemes can provide an interesting means of reducing costs, they can also allow price wars to drag on. Unfortunately, most of these consolidation deals are taking place inside national markets.

Once the dust from these mergers has settled, European telcos’ margins improved, and the harmonisation of regulation progressed as Mr Junker has said he hopes it will, it is not hard to imagine that the next stage of market consolidation will be cross-border and beyond. We need to remember that one of the arguments put forth when opening the telecommunications sector up to competition was the ability to create a single European market, and to enable the emergence of a handful of pan-European carriers. The stakes here are high: even if the synergies to be had from a cross-border merger are less obvious, size alone will no doubt have an impact on operators’ efficiency and their ability to invest and innovate. We should also emphasise that the creation of a large handful of telcos operating in most EU markets – replacing today’s one hundred or so national telcos, but also competing against a number of operators that target a very particular clientele – will in no way reduce the choice available to consumers. So we should probably just accept the fact of having fewer national operators, and in turn enjoy more meaningful competition – in a vaster, European-scale marketplace – which extends beyond merely price points.

Indeed, the real challenge for operators is not to engage in a game of industrial Monopoly and to grow and grow just for the sake of it. Instead, they need to ready themselves as best they can to handle three difficult and dramatic changes. The first is one that must force telcos to continue to improve their productivity and agility, to be able to respond to a fast-changing environment. Even if price wars are currently a trap, it is nevertheless also true that the telecom sector is among those most able to pass digital-driven productivity gains onto consumers, and to generate the means to sustain needed investments. The second change is an accelerate rate of convergence between fixed and mobile infrastructures, spurred by the advent of superfast access. The mobile Internet of tomorrow will be fibre networks’ biggest client. The third game changer is a major one. Namely the increasing influence of software and data on the sector, which will require operators to control quality of service parameters and customer relations in real time.

If the effervescence of the digital ecosystem is today characterised above all by innovative over-the-top (OTT) start-ups, the telecoms sector should not be viewed as the last dinosaur standing, or something akin to CDs being made obsolete by streaming. Regardless of how the future plays out, money will still need to be spent on the networks and the access link in the Internet value chain, with a solid profit outlook in the offing. Something that Europe, which today has no major global Internet platform to its name, would be unwise to overlook.

A paper published in the french newspaper Les Echos.fr 30 july 2014.

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