M1 – BT

M1 finally tunes in to pay-TV

Telco now ready to battle rivals SingTel and StarHub across all market segments

Singapore’s telecommunications trinity will compete head to head in mobile, broadband and television services for the first time in local history as M1 finally makes its long -prophesised foray into the pay-TV market.

From today, Singapore’s smallest operator will offer a range of low-cost educational programmes, music shows and movies to local consumers through a new service called 1box, plugging what is seen by many to be the final gap in its business portfolio.

For years, industry watchers have repeatedly highlighted the need for M1 to diversify as it has little room to manoeuvre in light of Singapore’s sky-high mobile adoption.

A quad-play telco, which has its business spread across voice, broadband, fixed line and pay-television segments, is seen by many analysts as the way forward.

‘This (pay-TV) would complete the quad-play proposition, allowing them (M1) to capitalise on the complete NGNBN (Next-Generation Nationwide Broadband Network) product suite,’ said Jeffrey Tan, a regional telecommunications analyst with OSK Research.

Like rival Singapore Telecommunications, M1’s pay-TV content is delivered via an Internet-based network to a customer’s television screen. What sets the two apart, however, is the fact that M1’s programmes are only available to those who subscribe to its broadband services.

The company is touting 1Box as a ‘value-added service’ for customers who are already using its cable, ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) or fiber-optic Internet plans.

M1 is the last telco to join the broadband game here, having launched its Internet services only in 2008, courtesy of an infrastructure tie-up with StarHub. Since then, it has repeatedly hinted that a nice pay-TV offering could be next on the cards.

In September this year, it started rolling out high-speed fiber-optic access through the government-backed NGNBN network when it became partly operational.

‘It (1box) will enable customers to get more out of their current M1 home broadband service,’ P Subramaniam, the company’s chief marketing officer, said in a statement.

To receive the content, consumers will have to rent a set-top from M1 at $5 or $12 monthly, depending on the broadband plan they are currently on.

Users will be able to receive M1’s programmes by linking new hardware to their televisions and broadband connections. Beyond streaming videos, subscribers can even use the new set-top to surf the Web on their TV and playback photos and family videos on a big screen.

In addition to the set-top rental cost, consumers will be charged for the programmes they view on an ala carte basis.

Educational content, which include shows for learning Chinese, maths and science, are offered at $2.14 monthly per channel. Music programmes featuring recordings of ‘live’ concerts are available for $5.95 per month, while movies are offered on a pay-per-view basis at prices ranging from $3.21 to $5.35.

‘Internet on a wide screen is indirectly the killer application (for 1box). Ala carte pricing means greater flexibility for customers, where a new market can be created,’ Mr Tan told BT.

‘They (M1) are trying very hard to increase stickiness and the ability to cross-sell,’ added OCBC Investment Research analyst Carey Wong.

While its low-cost, flexible pricing could be a draw for some, M1’s pay-TV foray is unlikely to ruffle the feathers of incumbents StarHub and SingTel.

SingTel’s mio TV service only took off in a big way last year after it paid premium to pry the Barclays Premier League broadcast rights away from StarHub. However, M1 lacks the financial clout to pull off a coup of this scale and so it has to go with a niche approach, Mr Wong said.

‘They (M1) have to make do with what limited resources they have. Most of the good content is now locked in,’ he explained, adding that the need for an additional set-top could be a further put-off for some consumers.

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