Television is being transformed by the Internet revolution. The promise of millions of personalized on-demand program is now becoming a reality worldwide, enticing new consumer usage and creating important new revenue streams.
This is stimulating competition, as telcos enter a market traditionally occupied by cable and satellite companies. Key to capturing this new revenue stream is the billing and customer care system, equipping operators with the tools for success: real-time financial management control and a wealth of customer profile data.
IPTV is a key priority for many telcos wishing to reap vast financial rewards. Infonetics Research predicts that the number of IPTV subscribers will reach 53 million by 2009, with revenue surging to $6 billion for equipment and $38 billion for services. Obtaining and retaining these new subscribers is a key priority, and traditional telcos with their existing consumer databases are in a prime position to succeed.
But incumbent cable and satellite TV providers are also putting up a fight, adding VoIP, video-on-demand, content, games and other services to their current video and Internet offerings.
To compete with incumbent providers, time-to-market will be critical for new entrants. But to win and retain customers, operators must also have an infrastructure to deliver the best customer experience.
Towards future success
A major challenge for telcos is whether or not their billing systems can support the demands of these new services and the new marketing models they require. Many operators worldwide have legacy billing systems that can't support the new types of services and innovative bundles that will be required to drive industry growth.
The majority of these legacy billing and customer care systems works in silos and cannot easily communicate with applications that handle other aspects of the customer lifecycle. Without seamless communication between billing, customer care, ordering and other systems, operators face a roadblock of meeting their new IPTV business objectives. Operators cannot overlook the importance of billing accuracy across all available services in the convergent world.
Billing for multi-channel video services requires technologies that support usage- and event-based billing, as well as flat rate subscription billing. It should also provide a full range of discounting options such as new customer introductory offers and incentives for existing subscribers, as well as a full range of payment options such as prepaid, pay now and postpaid. Cross product packaging and bundling capabilities are particularly important to promote the additional services of voice and data.
By implementing one billing system, operators can obtain a "single source of truth," providing a plethora of customer information and management capabilities, lowering cost of ownership and enabling the effective discounting and bundling of services, as well as clearly displaying all these services on one bill.
Customer is king
IPTV opens a wealth of new services for the consumer, from video-on-demand, to video choices based on personal interests to movies on the go. This places new demands on back-office systems, which must be addressed to achieve a high quality of service and a profitable business.
As operators expand into multiple business lines, they must resist the temptation of aligning their back-office systems in a way that separates their customers according to what type of service they use or their payment method.
All platforms throughout the infrastructure must have access to the customer - their account, network and equipment information - in order to qualify orders and deliver the correct services. Operators must be able to track, manage and realize all revenue obtained from every transaction in order to maximize profit.
By storing customer data within one customer care and billing system, it can be leveraged by all aspects of an organization and can support the customer with the best service possible.
A single platform enables operators to obtain a holistic view of the individual. This is critical as operators increasingly deliver more personalized convergent offerings that require a sophisticated understanding of customers' preferences and interests.
An excellent customer experience can't stop when a customer turns off the television and places a call to the service provider, or decides to order new services through the set-top box. Extending high quality customer service through every channel available is critical to success.
Real-time customer care capabilities are particularly important in an on-demand environment.
By seamlessly integrating all back-office systems, details of customer accounts, changes, financial status or technical problems can be shared with every part of the customer service chain. This becomes even more crucial when dealing with customers who have multiple services.
Consumers want real-time access to their account information, wanting to track and manage the expenditure of their family and even monitor the amount of time their children spend on playing video games.
With real-time systems, operators can put control back into the hands of the consumers, enabling them to assess their account status in real-time, pay bills by whichever means they wish, maintain their account information and upgrade services even without a call center.
More consumer, advertiser choices
As telcos move into the video space, the role of content becomes critical in determining whether or not a business will succeed. Without the right content, operators can't deliver the personalized channel line-up and a la carte programs that consumers desire.
As the delivery of new content increases, keeping track of thousands of unique partnerships can become too complex to manage. A fully integrated central billing system working with a revenue settlements solution can enable the efficient and effective management of content partners.
For IPTV to become an ongoing commercial success, operators should tap into the massive advertising opportunity IPTV provides and create smarter and more compelling marketing/advertising campaigns.
As an alternative to broadcast advertisements, advertisers can utilize the unique features of IP technology to create a "pull" as well as a "push" effect - enabling consumers to express direct interest in a product or service via the TV.
By using the information obtained by the operator via the billing and customer care system, advertisers can more fully understand the TV audience.
Armed with the business-critical tool of a single, integrated billing and customer care system, operators can capture the market and continue to deliver. This will not only result in streamlined back office systems, but ultimately improve customer experience and create customer loyalty.
Steve Borelli is Comverse's VP for segment and product marketing, converged billing