Moving into triple play: 5 key considerations as LIME expands into subscriber TV

Cable & Wireless in the Caribbean, also known as LIME, plans to launch subscriber TV service in the region. This post examines some of the benefits and challenges of that move.

On Monday, 3 October, Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) announced that it had selected Avail-TVN to provide the AnyViewTM platform video services for its Caribbean subsidiary, LIME. LIME, plans to roll out subscriber TV services throughout the region, starting with Jamaica and Barbados, where service should be launched by the first quarter of 2012. This new service will reportedly be made available on the company’s copper network, which is already used for its fixed-line telephony and Internet services.

Although it might not be widely known, LIME has been offering subscriber TV service, specifically cable TV, in some countries across the region, such as Saint Lucia. However, this project promises to be considerably more comprehensive, so it is instructive to consider some of the key benefits and challenges that could occur.

1.  Strategic opportunities

This decisive move into subscriber TV would allow LIME (which stands for Landline, Internet, Mobile, Entertainment) to continue to develop its Entertainment business, which would also include about 130 channels and video on demand. Further, noting the increasing demands for bandwidth to support a broad range of services and applications, it is opportune for the organisation to refocus and reposition itself to operate from a converged perspective.

2.  Improved competitiveness

As noted in our post, What is the impact of triple play on telecoms and ICT?, providers offering triple play are generally considered effective at fuelling competition. LIME should be able to capitalise on its existing infrastructure, especially its extensive copper networks throughout most of the countries it serves, since much of the focus tends to be on upgrading equipment at the local exchanges and distribution boxes, thus realising considerable savings.

Additionally, LIME would be able to capitalise on the opportunity to offset losses it has been incurring due to competition in the mobile market. For example, earlier this year, Cable & Wireless Jamaica reported approximately USD 15 million (JMD 1.3 billion) losses for the December 2011 quarter, which has been attributed in part to large interconnection out-payments to its competitors (Jamaica Gleaner). However, broadening the service base means that LIME could benefit from bundling its services, e.g. three services for a flat rate, and from economies of scale, e.g. having one budget, but branding and promoting three (or more) services.

3.  Potential to increase customer base

It appears to be a growing trend that incumbent telecoms companies which have widened their businesses to include subscriber or pay TV, experience an increasing customer base, greater take-up of service and considerable improvement in their overall business. For example, in Portugal, Portugal Telecom (PT) was losing approximately 100,000 fixed telephone lines every quarter in 2007, but in a recent interview with McKinsey, Zeinal Bava, CEO of PT, gave some insight into transformation that has occurred:

The most pressing challenge was to reinvigorate our fixed-line business, and it was clear that new approaches to managing people and innovation would be critical for our success. Mobile cannibalization was huge—two-thirds of all voice minutes in Portugal are mobile—and we were, as noted, losing 100,000 landline customers every quarter. We did market research and spoke with customers to understand why they were disconnecting, and the reason was simple: they were not getting enough value from their landline to justify the prices they were paying at the end of the month. We needed to add television to our voice and high-speed Internet offerings and create a triple-play offer….

4.  Poor state of the network

Although LIME could realise considerable commercial benefits through rolling out subscriber TV and broadening its services and revenue base, the actual condition of its infrastructure may be a limitation to success. Over the last decade or so, LIME has been very focussed on competing with Digicel in the mobile market, resulting in what may be a lack of attention to its copper network, particularly in suburban and rural areas. Some who have used the service can attest to the fact that poor call quality is regularly experienced, and that long rain showers can result in a complete loss of service.

Hence, the required upgrade may be more comprehensive than initially envisaged, since it would be ill advised to concentrate the service only in the urban areas. LIME is likely to be a new entrant in the subscriber TV market in most countries, so strategically, it would be prudent to use as much of its existing infrastructure to roll out this new service.

5. Poor customer perception

Cable & Wireless has been in the Caribbean for well over 100 years, and for much of that time it was the sole provider of telecoms services. During that time, the rates, especially international and mobile calling, were prohibitively high; there was limited choice of service; and whatever service existed was generally poor and not widely available. As a result, the prevailing sentiment among the populace was that Cable & Wireless was exploiting its customers.

Although competition was introduced in the last 10 years or so, persons still have a poor perception of Cable & Wireless/LIME, which means that customers might resist the new services based on their experiences prior to, and even after competition was introduced. Hence LIME may need to consider developing specific strategies to address customer perception, as it tries to reposition itself as the leading service provider in the Caribbean.