Monday, May 02, 2005

Triple play

It has been an interesting day. Last Friday the rumour started that the Belgian telco Belgacom was talking to the Dutch telco Versatel. This morning the company Versatel confirmed that it was in talks.

At first glance this is interesting. Geographically the two companies serve together Belgium, The Netherlands and parts of Germany. Belgacom is very rich as it did not loose money on the UMTS biddings, but is a company which gets most money from the fixed network. Versatel is a newcomer. It is not rich, but it has laid a fibre network throughout the Netherlands. That is gold in the ground. Now Versatel has become the first company to bring integrated triple play into effect.

Triple play, the offer of broadband internet access, telephone and television, was a marketing concept in the minds of broadband adepts for the last four years. But since last year a tranche of soccer television rights of the Dutch major league changed the playing field entire. The rights went to Versatel, one of the new teleco in Holland and it is turning the term triple play into a reality, not only technically but also in terms of content.

Versatel has promised to have the broadband network in place as well as the home media player of Samsung, so that people at home can receive the live broadcast of 39 soccer competition games, while other members of the family are online and others are talking away on the telephone. And given the parallel processing of youngster, they can do all three things at the same time. A resident will get an analogue ADSL+ connection of 20Mbps; the soccer game will take about 6Mbps, while the 14Mbps left can be used for Internet and/or the telephone. Versatel aims at 100.000 subscriptions at 40 euro a year, including free competition games, for this year.

KPN, the incumbent telco, was the first one to come on the market with a triple play proposition. Subscribers to the telephone, could get internet access cheaper, while digital television by air would even further reduce the rates. But the offer is not integrated. The cable companies like UPC and Casema now offer triple play. But Versatel took the cake by scooping up part of the soccer television rights.

With all these residential facilities falling into place, there is a frenzy for content. Soccer television rights have been at the center of the fight of facilities and content. For the company being awarded the soccer television rights will have a very good chance to become the leader of the pack. The Dutch public broadcast lost the major rights to soccer television. John de Mol, one of the name givers to the entertainment production company Endemol, which he left to start his new company Talpa, is starting a new Dutch television channel also on the basis of the soccer television rights.

What has been a white elephant, an unfulfilled dream, for more than 20 years will now become a reality at last: video on demand, live television broadcast, but also delayed broadcast. These opportunities call for re-negotiations with broadcast companies and film companies. And it will not be only the cable companies at the negotiation table, but also telecom companies.
The consequences of the abundance of distribution channels (cable, telecom and digital ether waves) will even put the question on the table, whether the public television offer, born out of scarcity of ether waves, should now be cropped and entertainment programs be dropped.

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