We sat down with Chem Assayag, Senior VP - Home Services Innovation Domain at Orange and Einat Kahana, Senior Director of Product Management here at VO, to discuss the drivers and challenges of Super Aggregation.
Q: As an industry we talk about Super Aggregation a lot, but what do customers themselves think?
Chem Assayag: We find customers keen to avoid the pains of going through five different service providers, five different UIs and UXs for five different invoices, and being able instead to have a transversal view of the content which is available and a consistent customer journey.
15 years ago, say, we had access to a few live channels and maybe some kind of basic on demand or stored content storing features. The access to content was pretty scarce. Now we have an almost unlimited amount of content. The question has gone from ‘is there something to watch?’ to ‘what can I watch amongst all this choice?’.
One year ago at Orange we did some observational research in Spain and Romania. One of the main findings was that, despite all the claims of the different platforms, finding the right content was very difficult for the viewer. What we saw is that people might spend 15, 20, or even 25 minutes, looking for something to watch. Then at the end of that process, they simply decide to watch something they have seen already for the second or third time.
With Super Aggregation, if they had the relevant cross-platform search and recommendations then typically they would avoid that situation. And the concept is only becoming more relevant as you see more and more platforms joining the market.
Q: Given its obvious benefits, why do we not see more Super Aggregation around the world, especially in territories with a high degree of OTT penetration such as Europe? What are the challenges in making it happen?
CA: The simple answer is that it has been more difficult to implement than we expected. Why is it more difficult? Because first, some of the key elements that you need to provide are very difficult to get. For instance, access to metadata is critical to be able to flag the content and make sure that you make the right recommendations, etc. Metadata access, however, is not easy and actually some platforms make it quite difficult. That means that it's challenging to provide something which is consistent across all the different catalogues.
The second key issue is that everybody wants to keep the control of the consumer journey. So, as a VOD platform, for instance, you might be reluctant to have your content being accessed from an interface which is not under your control, whether for branding purposes or because the end experience might not be precisely the one you want to provide to the viewers.
And then you have more technical questions. For instance, the ability to integrate all the different providers and present one single invoice for the users is very dependent on the IT system of each of the operations you are integrating. If I think about Orange alone, with more than 20 countries in our footprint you can imagine the complexity of the topic. The net result of all this is that I feel that the gap between what we want to achieve and what we can achieve ‘easily’ is bigger than we initially expected.
Einat Kahana: There is a great deal of variance. One of the big technical difficulties is around identity management and the ability to implement Single Sign On because each provider is working with their own protocol. Also each OTT content provider allows for a different way of integration. This creates challenges not only on the technical side but also from a user experience perspective in the ability to create a holistic customer experience.
CA: A lot depends at the end of the day on the kind of commercial and business relationship that you can negotiate with the OTT providers. Large operators have better leverage in negotiations because what everybody is looking for is volume. I would say in this respect that, maybe when the first deals were signed, as an industry we didn't see the important of getting access to metadata. Certainly not in the way that we do today. Nowadays those negotiations would be framed very differently.
Q: From your experience, are providers enthusiastic or wary regarding Super Aggregation?
CA: I think they are both! The risk is that the viewer could be directed to content that is not their content and they will spend more time watching something else. At the same time, if there is no super aggregation, the risk is that the viewer will end up saying ‘Okay, I cannot deal with so many platforms, so I just have to pick two or three of them’.
Q: What are the main challenges you foresee this year when it comes to further implementing Super Aggregation?
EK: First of all is the fact that we working in different territories and working with different types of operators and content providers. In an ideal world we would be able to integrate directly with content providers and go to customers with a ready integrated product, but we are still dependent on the existing relationships that customers have with providers. It would definitely be helpful if the direct integration with content providers was easier to launch
Q: Is there any prospect of a push towards standards?
CA: I don’t see anything coming in the short term. Even at the scale of Orange it's very difficult with some of these topics to have one common standardised way of doing things and we have to bear in mind that a lot of content is local. You just have to deal with it and try to do things as efficiently as possible. The good news though is that most of the big global platforms have launched now, so we know who the main companies we have to work with are.
Q: What about the future? How do you see the roadmap of Super Aggregation in the coming years?
CA: Despite some of the issues that I mentioned, we will be in a position to implement some of the features that are going to make Super Aggregation really work for our viewers, such as transversal search and recommendation, and the ability to at least invoice several providers And, at Orange at least, we are working on an initiative regarding the UX and looking to arrive at a consistent way in which we can present the different types of content. We want also to help our consumers find the best content offers, including “bundles” such as the one we did with OCS and Netflix.
EK: I think that if we can improve the sharing of data between everyone involved, so that everyone can see what the viewers are watching across all services, it can create an enhanced personalized experience, which can also provide more incentive for the OTT services to share this data. And along the line of enhanced personalization, something which is in the immediate future will be personalised line up of channels that provide a lean back experience for the viewer: linear TV, effectively, but targeted at individual or family preferences.