Pratthana, left, and Steve Burton, HBO Asia executive vice president.
Pratthana, left, and Steve Burton, HBO Asia executive vice president.

AIS and True in battle to attract more subscribers with global digital content

Corporate February 13, 2017 01:00


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ADVANCED INFO Service and True Corp group are competing intensely to offer appealing content to bring in new subscribers and boost revenue from the broadcast of TV programmes on various platforms.

AIS chief executive officer Somchai Lertsutiwong has insisted that his telecommunications company has no plan to become a pay-TV operator but will use its wireless and broadband Internet platforms to offer the global digital content offered by business partners on a revenue-sharing basis. 

AIS acting chief marketing officer Pratthana Leelapanang has said this is different from the pay-TV business model. AIS will not make a big investment in purchasing content rights but will instead acquire such content from its business partners. 

“With our more than 40 million mobile-phone subscribers, we will grow together with those partners,” he said. 

Last week AIS announced a partnership with US premium cable and satellite television network HBO to offer content via its mobile application AIS Play and its Internet protocol (IPTV) network on a five-year exclusive basis. 

The announcement came shortly after pay-TV operator TrueVisions decided to drop its feeds of HBO and some other channels.

According to AIS, six premium movie channels – HBO HD, HBO Signature, HBO Family, HBO Hits, Cinemax, and Red by HBO – will be offered to AIS customers on both mobile and fixed-line broadband networks via linear and on-demand models. AIS customers soon will be able to experience HBO Go, with which they can access on-demand content.

Apart from HBO, AIS also has also partnered with the Fox Network and the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States.

However, it remains to be seen when the largest cellular operator can start offering all these new programmes on its IPTV network.

Though AIS holds an IPTV licence, the rules of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunica-tions Commission (NBTC) require the company to ask for a permit for each TV programme it will transmit on its IPTV network. 

NBTC broadcasting committee chairman Natee Sukonrat said AIS had yet to seek such permits. 

AIS is not obliged by NBTC rules to seek similar permits to air these TV programmes on its mobile-phone network. 

Pratthana said packages offering these new programmes would come out soon.

“HBO content will initially target urban viewers before being expanded to cover mass audiences nationwide. Other content such as NBA programmes will target pre-teens aged between seven and 10, whom we want to become our new generation of mobile-phone users in the future,” he said.

“We will not only offer content but also launch marketing activities to promote the programmes. We might bring NBA superstars in to undertake activities with schools here.” 

AIS expects to have a million subscribers to its AIS Playbox IPTV service by the end of this year, up from 300,000 subscribers now.

Somchai said 2016 was the first year that AIS’s data revenue exceeded that of voice, and the trend would continue. Its voice revenue was Bt51.250 billion last year, down 15 per cent from 2015, while mobile data service revenue jumped 20 per cent year on year to Bt63.857 billion. 

AIS subscribers’ average monthly mobile data consumption was 3.6 gigabits per second last year, up from 2Gbps a month in 2015. 

As of the third quarter last year, True’s voice revenue was Bt15.411 billion and mobile data revenue was Bt24.628 billion. Its mobile data revenue has exceeded that of voice since the fourth quarter of 2014.

Pratthana said AIS and its foreign content partners had been concerned about possible violations of the programme copyrights, but he believed that AIS could avoid such breaches.

Birathon Kasemsri na Ayudhaya , True Corp’s chief content and media officer, has said that as a pay-TV operator, TrueVisions had to continue to seek new appealing content for viewers. 

He added that dropping HBO content from the TrueVisions network had affected the company but True had already procured interesting new TV programmes to replace them. The new programmes include those of Warner TV, Sony Channel, Paramount Channel, Fox Action, Celestial Classic Movies and Food Network. 

He said these new programmes could attract young viewers.

True reportedly spends about Bt5 billion a year on content procurement. A broadcasting-industry source said True had been spending about Bt500 million annually to acquire the now-discontinued HBO programmes.

True is also planning to relaunch its IPTV service called “True TV”, which would be available via an Android smart box connected to the Internet, requiring a minimum speed of 15 megabits per second. True hopes the IPTV service will appeal to younger customers as an alternative to traditional pay-TV offerings via cable and satellite receivers.

The relaunched True TV began a trial run a few months ago, offering a variety of content including movies, sport and music programmes.

True originally introduced |an IPTV service back in 2008, aiming to become a media-convergence empire operating telecommunication and subscription-based television services. However, because of low Internet penetration at that time, the service was put on hold.

Chief commercial officer Kittinut Tikawan said True had been a leader in providing content that covers all segments from sports to documentaries, and all of these programmes could be viewed on all of its digital platforms. 

Besides seeking new content, AIS and True have also been competing to seek additional spectrum bandwidth to strengthen the quality of their services. 

Recently both partnered with MCOT on the latter’s plan to test a pay-TV service on MCOT’s 2.6-gigahertz band. However, the test has yet to begin, as the NBTC has declined to grant MCOT the network code that would enable a trial run to air pay-TV programmes on the telecom networks.Pratthana denied that the move [which one?] reflects [??] AIS’s plan to become a pay-TV broadcaster. However, he declined to elaborate.