Introductory note from Ben Morrell, Contributing Author, OTTVerse.com
In this open-ended series, I will speak to key industry players, customers, and experts who have an influence on the outstandingly diverse Asia-Pacific region. It seeks to find out how technology innovation solves key business problems as well as try to get answers to the deeper questions media and entertainment companies are searching for as they launch and expand their own services.
I’d be keen to hear from anyone directly who’s interested in having their say on a wide variety of topics. You can reach me on Linkedin.
Interview with Paolo Cuttorelli – VP & GM, Asia-Pacific at Evergent Inc.
Paolo brings 20 years of expertise and knowledge from the media and telco industries as well as a proven ability to forge long term strategic partnerships with large and complex accounts both in Asia and globally. Prior to joining Evergent, Paolo was the Head of Account Management for Asia at Brightcove where he was responsible for customer success and expanding the Asia business across Brightcove’s portfolio of global broadcasters, publishers, and digital native customers.
Prior to Brightcove, Paolo held senior sales and professional services roles at Quickplay Media (acquired by AT&T) and Subex Ltd. He has experience working with global media and telecom companies such as AT&T, Singtel, Discovery, HBO, HOOQ, Time Warner, Sony, Verizon, Rogers, and Telecom Italia. Paolo is based in Singapore and holds a Bachelor’s degree in science from the University of Waterloo.
Ben: Where are you based?
Paolo: I live with my family in Singapore.
Ben: How many OTT services are you/your family subscribed to?
Paolo: Right now we’re subscribed to three OTT Video Services (Netflix, HBO Go Asia and Amazon Prime Video) and one music streaming service (Apple Music).
Ben: What’s the most compelling/impressive service that’s caught your attention this year?
Paolo: I’m very partial to HBO Go. For me the new big-screen app they’ve launched for Apple TV in Singapore is great and I love the content library. The interface is great and the sign-up process was easy and intuitive.
Ben: OTT can be an expensive business, so arguably you would think investment in the best monetization technology a company can afford, makes perfect sense. Of course, balancing that investment with content costs, distribution costs, staff costs, etc. is a challenge. What’s your experience when helping a customer with their revenue management, are you typically working with customers who don’t have an existing solution?
Paolo: We have a range of accounts all with different needs. Each customer’s requirement is unique so we need to listen to their challenges and offer them the best solution for their particular challenge. Our software and services allow our customers to navigate through the space with greater flexibility and that’s something we really stress at Evergent: video streaming providers need to maintain an agile posture by ensuring their backend systems can deal with whatever their business or the market throws at them.
We understand that our customers are working on an international scale and therefore we are supporting more than 150 currencies as well as many payment methods. We also offer complex monetization options that go well beyond regular credit card billing, which, in more developed markets is all you may need to monetize your service. However, in Asia being able to enable things like B2B or B2B2C use cases is fundamental as the distribution of the service can and does happen via so many different channels. We listen to the market and as a result, we offer a wide array of options that offer maximum flexibility.
Ben: Build vs. buy must be a common thread. Many could believe that investing in tech talent to build in-house makes sense, others are big believers in outsourcing non-core competencies. What do you tell your customers?
Paolo: Our customers are working with us because they believe in our expertise and because they understand that ultimately building user and billing management systems isn’t their core competency and even if they did build internally it wouldn’t differentiate them from the other streaming services out there. Our customers rely on Evergent to guide them and look after certain areas of the business (billing management, offers & catalog management, etc), so they can focus on their core competencies and expand their reach.
Ben: How about ad-funded services, or hybrid services – at times this year they have taken a real hit. How important is it for services to still maintain that “subscriber-like” relationship?
Paolo: With a myriad of subscription options today, consumers are spoilt for choice more than ever. As much as pricing is a deciding factor for OTT platform consumers, user experience is what will convert them into long term subscribers. It’s crucial for OTT players to see services from the subscriber’s point of view and maintain an on-going relationship with those consumers. Brands can strengthen their one-to-one relationship with users by meeting them on their terms, and by leveraging tools such as chatbots or with responsive customer service and real-time communications via their social media channels.
Ben: Let’s talk a bit about the technology of subscriber or revenue management. What is it?
Paolo: This technology combines identity, billing, and revenue processes that are integrated together in one holistic revenue management solution to OTT media services. It gives our clients the flexibility to work with only one platform across multiple geographies and lines of businesses while activating different payment models and providing deep insights into user behavior, monetization, and churn metrics. Our technology also supports numerous payment methods as well as more than 150 global currencies.
Ben: As someone who up until recently was no doubt traveling all over the region – possibly controversial questions – which country cooks up the best food? Who’s got the best transport service?
Paolo: I’ve got to say that I’m very partial to the food in Singapore as you can find something for every mood and culinary preference here whether it be traditional chicken rice or roti paratha. If I had to pick just one country I miss traveling to for the food I’d have to go with India – I really miss a good Dhal when I travel to Mumbai!
Ben: Back to Evergent – Where are the key innovation points to look out for in the next 12-18 months?
Paolo: We are constantly working on innovating our solutions by utilising the latest technology.
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are tools that are widely used in the industry. Both can be leveraged to understand the consumer’s attitude and predict the potential shift in his/her behavior. As our team is constantly developing our solutions around the capabilities of new technologies, we take those factors into consideration when we work on our software and services.
With this always-on strategy in mind, we are continuously expanding our list of supported payment methods as well as integrating Telco & TVE partners into our solutions.
Ben: Churn is an absolute thorn in the side of many services and no doubt an area initially ignored and then moves swiftly to an obsession. Where do you think technology can play a significant role in churn prevention? I can imagine data across many aspects of the tech stack makes sense to analyze – what are the key metrics tracked? In
Paolo: Thanks to technology we are now capable of studying consumers’ habits and determining if and when they are on the verge of churn. User engagement metrics such as the average watch time, the average number of videos watched or the type of actions a user is taking on the app and/or website are indicators that play a significant role when it comes to churn-prevention. We can leverage this data to design hyper-personalized offers for customers. This will enhance the customer’s journey with the brand and gives providers the best shot at retaining these users on their platform.
Ben: Have you seen a great deal of innovation in pricing models this year? It seems the “all you can watch” fee per month model is pervasive for many. Do you see that changing?
Paolo: We have seen an increase in PVOD offering this year. One of the reasons for that is that the pandemic had led production studios to release new movies online as theaters could not open to the general public. We are also seeing a rise in bundle offerings where streaming OTT services are bundled with traditional services like Pay TV or Broadband, resulting in a higher value and ultimately “stickier” proposition for the consumer.
The major players in the industry are evaluating the best strategies and adapting their approach to the current situation, awaiting more stable times. I would imagine that as we enter next year we’ll continue to see more options in terms of how these OTT services are bundled not only with traditional services but also with other OTT services. When Apple is creating bundles (with Apple One) you know that bundling is here to stay and likely to only grow in popularity.
Ben: I can imagine the world of payment gateways, payment processors, and the like is a real headache for customers. Where do you start? What do customers need to consider when selecting their payment tech providers? Why is it so fragmented?
Paolo: It can be hard for businesses to distinguish between the multiple payment tech providers available. There are a number of things to consider when selecting a payment gateway. My advice for businesses is to ask the right questions and to speak with the right experts that can advise them for their particular use case.
Some things to consider when it comes to payment gateway are:
- How much of each transaction will these companies keep?
- Are they compliant with all the necessary data protection standards, in Asia and globally?
- Do they have a global reach or do they operate only in one country?
- How established is their tech support – how easy will it be to reconcile your revenue numbers with what they’re reporting?
- How easy are they to integrate with – do they have technical support and API specs readily available that allows systems like Evergent to readily plug in?
- Do they have a strong roadmap and are they working to support local payment modes beyond just credit cards, such as digital wallets, bank transfers, etc.
At Evergent, we advise our customers, but we also work closely with payment tech providers to ease the integration process on both sides and ensure a smooth transition.
Ben: Who’s doing well in the region, which service do you think has a compelling local offering?
Paolo: There are a number of platforms that are doing very well in the region — whether it’s the type of content or the add-on services they offer, OTT platforms are constantly trying to localize their offering to make their service more compelling and bespoke for each market. For example, Netflix now localizes its offering by expanding its content library with Asian-led content for those viewing from Asia.
Another good example is HBO Go Asia’s large content library and sign-up process that has now been integrated into telecom companies’ bundles such as Starhub or Singtel in Singapore.
Lastly, SonyLiv in India and Sky TV Neon in New Zealand are two key players in their respective markets who have distinctive complimentary add-ons such as live sport streaming for SonyLiv and a vast library of TV and Movies-On-Demand for Sky TV Neon.
Ben: Finally – what’s the series you are currently watching and on which service? Would you recommend it?
Paolo: Most recently I’ve been watching Raised by Wolves on HBO Go. Cool show and I highly recommend it if you like science fiction.
Ben: Thank you Paolo for taking the time to talk to me for this article, it’s much appreciated. All the best!
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