Eircom’s TV gamble

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22 January 2014 | 0

Eircom became the first ‘quad-play’ provider in Ireland with the launch of its eVision TV service last October. Following a soft launch that attracted some 3,000 early adopters, the time has come for an aggressive marketing strategy. This week it came in the form of a troupe of 30 young people in bodysuits entertaining crowds in Dublin, Cork and Galway with what the press release calls “random acts of kindness”. Marketing money well spent.

If eVision is successful, eircom will have created an inclusive communications ecosystem covering residential telephone, broadband, mobile and TV offerings.

Traditionally, the broadband market in Ireland has been divided into two camps, ‘dumb pipe’ providers and those who use content to make up for inferior networks. As UPC rolled out its €500 million fibre network and bundling TV with the fastest broadband on the market, eircom was forced to rely on its greater reach and the now defunct Music Hub. The proliferation of fast broadband and smart TVs have blurred the line between broadcast and online, changing how people watch and what they watch it on.

At €10 for a basic package, eVision is an attractive option for existing landline and eFibre customers using either basic cable packages or Saorview, but does it stack up against its main competitors UPC and Sky, and will it be a legitimate selling point or a play to keep as many customers ‘in the fold’ as possible? In this market a ‘good enough’ solution won’t suffice. Lets look at main battlegrounds.

Technology
Eircom has had a lot of experience in television infrastructure, from its majority share in Cablelink through to trials of a potential DTT competitor in the early noughties. In 2011, it was announced that a TV service would be rolled out around the same time as its fibre network, which would include on-demand content. None of these models came to pass. What we have got from eVision is a set-top box with 240 hours of storage, pause/rewind functionality and one-touch series recording and the ability to record two shows at once. Multi-room viewing is available for a small premium of €5 a month – the same features you would expect on a Sky/UPC box.

The absence of multi-screen options for watching material on PC and mobile as well as TV, however, makes it obvious that this was a product designed by committee in 2011. The ‘second screen’ in the home might be another television, but it could also be a smartphone or a tablet and it need not even carry the same content. As we’re seeing from games consoles and smart TVs, second screens and apps can compliment what you’re watching as well as act as a second delivery vector. There’s no sign of that kind of thinking here.

Content
Most cable packages start with a modest fee for free-to-air, terrestrial UK channels and a smattering of broad interest material before adding on ‘premium’ sports and movie channels and that model is preserved with eVision. Where UPC and Sky start their packages at 50 and 35 channels respectively, eVision offers a respectable 34.

Where eVision falls down is not in the number of channels offered but in what is now de rigueur with cable providers: on-demand content.

Both UPC and Sky have catch-up services and movie rental stores. Sky, with its larger channel offering and movie back catalogue, has the edge in this department. For eVision to be without a rental store when the likes of Xbox Live and Netflix are cashing in on that vacuum is disappointing.

Price
If you’re an eircom customer, here’s the deal maker: eVision is cheap. Really cheap. If you’re buying the basic pack 34 channels you’ll only part with €10 a month, versus the €28 charged by UPC and Sky.

Sky Movies and Sky Sports 1 and Sky Sports 2 are available on eVision for €39 a month on top of the basic cost (Setanta and ESPN are part of a separate deal). Oddly, Sky’s entertainment channels – a requirement for getting the premium sport and movie packages – aren’t available. Sky’s signature ‘red button’ functionality is not offered, nor is 3D or HD sports but UPC customers already know about that frustration.

Does eVision offer enough to take on UPC and Sky? Not on current evidence. It doesn’t offer the same breadth of content and has some catching up to do in embracing mobile and second-screen viewing.

As audiences desert scheduled programming in favour of binge viewing and more regular visits to the cinema, eVision’s lack of catch-up and on-demand services is a serious flaw. It may carry good channels but it doesn’t reflect the way people watch TV now. As a bona fide quad-play option, eircom’s eVision doesn’t stack up against the competition. It may be a ‘good enough’ option but as I said, good enough won’t cut it. Price alone is not a game changer.

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