Whilst social distancing is the lever to keep us apart in the Covid-19 battle ironically another exponential change is bringing us together and that is video. Firstly we are all watching more good old fashioned TV. Ant & Dec experienced their biggest rating peak ever of 11.1 million for their Saturday episode despite the fact the show itself is a glorified video call based on reruns. In fact, hands up if you had heard of Zoom.us a month ago ? Now bookclubs, Mum’s groups, pub quizzes and pilate classes and quick pints are taking place in their millions online. Zoom itself has added billions to its valuation bit.ly/2Xinrd6 albeit with a side order of scrutiny from various security services bbc.in/39WJuch . Expertly assisted by FaceTime, Portal, WhatsApp and others, peer to peer multi party video has moved well and truly mainstream. On-demand streamers Netflix, Prime video, Apple TV and the newly arrived Disney+ also give us plenty of reasons to comply and stay at home. However it is the newly crowned critical infrastructure kings, or telcos as they were once known, with whom the challenge lies.
Back in the early 2000’s when 3G was rolled out with space age phones and massive promises media services were at best ‘lumpy’. As a 3G PM your writer was part of the fantasy delivering video calling for a major telco. I spent hours zooming up and down the M4 in the back of a VW radio test car trialling various choppy not very good services; but today its the norm and we travel in Bentley’s by comparison. Today what family journey takes place without a tablet to argue over? Move over CD’s and stories about tapes. Naturally our kids don’t get it in the same way they don’t understand paper photographs. They don’t care that until the arrival of the first iPhone in 2007 and then Android a year later that people literally didn’t do video at all.
Today 500k global concurrent streams or families worked out with Joe Wicks on numerous types of screens and connections as kids everywhere study from home bit.ly/3c0C5Kk . This is just one example of hundreds to be found on Youtube and Vimeo. Mass video sharing and on demand is here to stay, even if current levels drop back as the pandemic subsides. The question is what will remain? What of these new behaviours will persist? A certainty is that the role of the telco has changed forever. As Vodafone prophetically stated they are a data company now. The clue was always in the name. What’s more is that they are now at the frontline more than ever and, with 5G on the lip, value needs to be managed carefully. Ubiquity, we know, is the enemy of this value and yet our love grows. What to do? As we have seen in other network driven businesses such as payments and energy – it is hard to establish customer value and nurture it. Nurturing requires innovation and this in turn requires unrelenting focus and a patience. As Michael Lewis wrote in 2001, the future did indeed just happen. Now we need to protect it.
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