SkyTV looks for more dance partners

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Yesterday Vodafone premiered its new internet TV product. Tomorrow SkyTV boss John Fellet wants another internet retailer to do the same. But will anyone give him a call?

“It’s a very competitive telecommunications world and I’ve got to have a product for every player that wants to dance,” Fellet says.

Fellet says SkyTV had originally been working on a neutral set-top box for content delivery that it could offer to all telcos, but then merger talks began between Vodafone and SkyTV, so it prioritised Vodafone’s development. When the merger was called off – scuttled by the Commerce Commission in February – they decided to keep working with Vodafone.

“So, we sat there and said alright, it’s in my best interest to get a box – I don’t care, any box – it’s important that we get one out in the field now. Working with Vodafone they were a little bit faster to get out the door then we could do,” Fellet explains.

“But we will eventually have to come up with our own box, because I love them (Vodafone) and I hope they are real successful, but there are 93 ISPs out there and I’ve got to come up with a product that can work with every one of them.”

When?

“Let me get this box out the door first. But a lot of this stuff they are doing are things that we have come up with and they picked it up and ran with it, which is fantastic.”

Vodafone TV

Vodafone is bundling together an unlimited broadband package with SKY TV and free-to-air programming, which will be delivered via a set-top box. This means customers won’t require Sky TV’s satellite dish. It will also offer the ability to include the Netflix app, although customers will have to subscribe to Netflix separately.

Vodafone’s new set-top box was first developed by Vodafone in Italy and Spain. Content is delivered via the cloud, enabling subscribers to watch shows they’ve missed over the past three days. In addition, viewers will have the ability to switch seamlessly between smartphone, tablet and television. The official launch date and pricing for Vodafone TV have not been announced.

No set-top box at all

Fellet says SkyTV is not wedded to boxes, it can work with apps.

“Simon Moutter (Spark CEO) sends me photos of himself dumping his Sky decoder into the garbage can, so I can only interpret that he’s not a believer in boxes, it’s more about apps. We’ll work with apps, we don’t care. I want my content everywhere, it’s my game plan.”

Partnering with Amazon

Amazon’s move to Australia – and by extension NZ – has many commentators speculating that it may challenge SkyTV for the rights to the rugby, as it too likes to bundle (in Amazon’s case the bundle is media streaming, free fast shipping and cloud storage). Fellet has talked to Amazon representatives about partnering opportunities, but just at the local level “no one who would be high enough in the food chain to make that call.”

“Keep in mind that Amazon is not in the business of showing up with a camera crew and getting the calls that I get at 2am in the morning where my commentators are upset because their contract calls for a balcony in the hotels and they don’t have a balcony, and I get that call. I can’t imagine Jeff Bezos wanting that call,” Fellet says.

“So, I would imagine there is a greater likelihood that we would partner with Amazon in getting rugby out to the world, then the other way around.”

Sport alone

Could an ISP that wants to partner with SkyTV on content, only take the sports? It appears that Fellet is up for that discussion, but no one is calling.

When the merger with Vodafone was called off Fellet says he expected some of the 50 or so ISPs that complained it would prevent them from doing a deal with SkyTV, to call him. But no one did. “So, I think mainly they just wanted to jerk around Vodafone more than anything else.”

He also thinks ISPs might think content is easy. “These telecommunications partners look at me and spend some time with me and think jeez how difficult can it be, Fellet’s doing it, and then they go down that path and believe me it’s not as easy as we try to make it look.”

There are the 400 separate sports contracts that SkyTV negotiates, to start with.

Satellite remains

InternetNZ deputy executive Andrew Cushen says that Vodafone TV will be available to around 20 percent of the market (customers must take Vodafone’s 12 or 24 month Unlimited Fibre or FibreX plans), so while SkyTV needs new broadband distribution channels, satellite will remain a viable technology for some time.

“The big question we have is do we ever get off the satellite? Under the best conditions the fast broadband passes 85% of the population. And by the way that (remaining) 15% now, we probably have 100% penetration,” he says, citing remote areas such as the Chatham Islands.

Still, Fellet seems keen to enter into partnerships with more telcos, and wants it known that SkyTV and Vodafone are not exclusive. “My argument was that no one wants to take me to the dance anyway, so I’ve got to go steady with this guy.”

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