If there is a common thread in the history of Sky in Italy, it is that of always having moved on mature markets, but following «disruptive» strategies. When only Rai and Mediaset were seen in the homes of Italians, satellite channels quickly changed the TV offer. Then, after having accustomed viewers to paying for a subscription, Sky started selling content on demand by creating the first pay-TV on-demand. Now Sky Italia opens a new front by investing 250 million in the telephony business, hi-tech version, to launch an innovative broadband service offer that allows you to create a network dedicated to video content inside the home. “It is the most important event since the birth of Sky Italia – explains Maximo Ibarra, the CEO to whom Comcast entrusted the launch of the new project last year -. For us it is a new challenge in a market dominated by a few large players ».
You led Wind and managed the integration with Tre in Italy, then Kpn in Holland. Coming from telephony, he knows that the market is already saturated and rather crowded. So what is Sky aiming at with the WiFi offer? «With WiFi we enter a new segment that allows Sky to offer the first true TriplePlay service in Italy. Our choice stems from two considerations: the first concerns the trend that we have noticed towards the use of video content, which is decidedly dominant in terms of traffic. The second is that in viewing content, broadband is what makes the difference. So, when a pay TV like Sky decides to move more and more towards an on-demand offer and streaming, the combination of TV content and quality of connectivity becomes a critical success variable. In reality there is also a third consideration: both for voice and for broadband, the greatest consumption occurs at home. It is a trend that the lockdown has accelerated, but that has been going on for several years and that will consolidate more and more. So the house is becoming the place where all contents are used. All entertainment will be inside the home, with additional services, such as those for the smart home, which will pivot on broadband ».
Are TV series and films the “killer application” to enter homes and add “pieces” of offer?«The WiFi service allows us to finally offer a new experience. It is important for a content company like Sky to be able to choose which technology to provide to customers to allow them to have the best possible experience inside the home, with the possibility of expanding the service portfolio. Through the “mesh” technology Sky WiFi is able to calibrate the band according to the use on the different devices in the house, always giving everyone the highest quality and speed ».
The lockdown allowed you to study your subscribers’ habits even better. How much has traffic increased on Sky?«Before the lockdown we had an average of 44 million titles downloaded per month, in the same period of the previous year they were 36.5 million. During the lockdown we rose to 68 million, 50% more and the delta remained almost unchanged. But perhaps the most important thing we have noticed is how consumption has moved more and more from linear channels, which however remain relevant in the offer, to on-demand, also linked to the penetration of our Q platform ».
If we look at the media market, there is a push towards consolidation by sectors: Mediaset is trying to give birth to Mfe which stands as a European pole for linear TVs, Banijay and Endemol have come together creating a leader in content, Tim and Open Fiber could integrate networks. Why should the triple play model be the right one in your business? «I am convinced of this because the customer wants a single service that can combine content and connectivity effectively. If the assumption is that the house, as already seen today, will become more and more the center where video content is consumed, combining connectivity and content the central element becomes the experience. Let’s take the Sky Q platform also available in web version: you can buy it, take it home and activate immediately because it is plug & play. If the customer also adds the WiFi service, designed specifically for this platform, he finds himself with an additional advantage that is not only technological but of experience ».
How important was Comcast as a shareholder when choosing to offer broadband connectivity?«Having a shareholder present in the world of triple play facilitates, but the idea of entering the broadband market, however Sky had matured for some time, Comcast probably gave an acceleration to the project, but also provided know-how for the choice of the network and information systems. Having two models already present at home such as Comcast and Sky Uk, which has been a TriplePlay broadband operator for several years, was especially important in the technological choice: the Sky WiFi hub and the “Pods” were launched thanks to their support ».
Why did you choose Open Fiber? «We made the choice of the best possible network in Ftth technology. We are talking about 9 million homes potentially ready for fiber up to home. But we also have an agreement with Fastweb for areas where there is no Open Fiber at the moment ».
Tim was excluded because he considers her to be a competitor? «We invited all operators and chose the best offer. That said, I don’t consider competitors’ phone operators. I also speak from personal experience thinking in particular of Kpn in Holland, of which I was CEO until last year: telephone operators tend to aggregate third-party content. It’s different for us. We too do aggregation of content, but only in part. Our customers are fond of offering our original productions, channels such as Sky Arte or Sky Sport, the Sky series, the films produced by us, the Sky Tg24 all news. That of Sky is an offer of contents of a decidedly superior level and so is the broadband offer ».
For a TV, offering broadband services is a new choice. A partnership was not enough technology with a telephone operator?«It wasn’t enough because Sky creates a real network at home. We didn’t call it broadband but WiFi because in the end you make your contents travel in different rooms, as we learned to do with the Sky Multiroom service. We needed to have full control of the technology which is one of the central points of the WiFi service. The pods or the hub adapt to the consumption that everyone in the home makes inside their room. It is a sophisticated technology, but this is of little interest to the normal customer. What is really important is that the gang goes where it has to go for the consumption that has to be done. ”
In this way, however, you will offer an ultra-fast free lane to over the top like Amazon. «There are two considerations. The first concerns the contents: let’s say that we have seen that Sky customers do not give up on us to move on a combination of Over the top, but consider it complementary. Netflix and Amazon have a vertical offer: the first focused on TV series, the other on TV series and films, and if you compare it with Sky’s offer, the overlap is very limited. The OTT does not replace but is added. It is complementary, not alternative. ”
After Netflix also Amazon on Sky? «We speak to everyone by definition. After Netflix, we would have Disney + from March of next year. Sky’s logic: it’s “All in one easy place”. This means not only all of my content but also the best that comes from third parties. Being present in multiple countries we have the advantage of being able to offer more geographical territories and this in the agreements with the OCT has a specific weight. This is what we already do at home with the Sky Originals series: we shoot them in a country studying the characteristics of that market, but then we also make them available in other countries ».
Does not being banned from Serie A matches exclusively on the web risk slowing down broadband plans?«The decision of the Council of State is questionable and we have appealed. The ruling does not affect the rights already acquired, and it is important. When the Serie A rights auction is held for 2021-2024, non-exclusivity for the web must apply. We will return to the experience of the 2015-2016 championship when nobody had the exclusivity ».
And does nothing change for Sky?«On each platform the real difference will be made in the way you present the matches, the insights and ultimately the whole offer of contents that you are able to build around the sporting event. What we call “Sky Touch”. The quality and originality of the direction, of the editorial and gornalistic model. It is important for Sky to have the content and offer it to our subscribers. If others have them, it is not a problem ».
Nemmeno se fosse Amazon?«I saw that Amazon in Great Britain took the rights to some Premier Ligue matches, in Germany some Champions matches. In the race made by the Bundesliga a few weeks ago, however, the rights were taken by Sky and Dazn. Amazon didn’t show up. There is an orientation towards football, but I think this will happen with great caution and with a different model ».
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