TalkTalk TV chief targets rivals as revamped strategy nears completion

It is almost a year since Aleks Habdank took over as head of TalkTalk TV, and with a number of key strategic decisions made the exec is looking to crank up the number of subscribers at the UK-based operator.

The former Virgin Media Director of Digital Entertainment was hired as TalkTalk TV’s COO in December 2015, before taking the Managing Director role four short months later when Max Alexander quit after a 17-year stint.

Habdank says he was probably the first person “who came from the content space” that the company had hired.

He arrived as TalkTalk was dealing with the fallout of a hack that saw the details of 157,000 customers accessed by fraudsters.

At that point, TalkTalk had around 1.4 million TV customers, which has fallen to around 1.3 million now.

Habdank has overseen several fundamental changes in his short time in charge as he looks to reverse that trend.

First came the April 2016 launch of the TalkTalk TV Store, a pay-as-you-go TV service that leveraged the acquisition of BlinkBox.

A few months later, TalkTalk secured access to both BT Sport and all Sky Sports channels that it subsequently offered to customers on a 30-day rolling contract.

It then became the first UK provider to roll out updates to the YouView set-top box, including the ability to record live TV from your mobile.

The changes to TalkTalk TV were accompanied by a complete revamp of the operator’s overall tariff structure.

At Mobile World Congress last month, TalkTalk announced it had signed up CSG International to update its mobile TV offering.

The vendor’s Ascendon platform will be used in part to help TalkTalk to segment its customer base and provide them with more personalised offerings.

CSG’s President of OTT Services, Kent Steffen, says there is “a big paralysis out there” as telcos “try to figure out” whether they are broadband companies or services companies.

“Unless you get that layer on top of broadband it’s very difficult to differentiate your proposition,” Steffen adds. “That’s where the innovation is.”

Habdank has certainly bought into that vision.

He describes it as “the platform beyond the set-top box” and says it one of three elements that make up a successful TV offering – the others are the network and the content.

The MD says the decision to work with CSG came after a long hard look at what his team should be focusing on.

“One of the conclusions we came to was that building stuff like this technology made no sense.

“[Handing it over to CSG] leaves us free to focus on the stuff that’s really core to us – maintaining the network, content acquisition, pricing, proposition and marketing.”

The result – a new multiscreen offering – will be launched in the summer as part of Habdank’s plan to make access to content “as ubiquitous as possible”.

Given he claims that “not many people do that well”, one of his key aims of the next 12 months is to sign up new customers “who are not wedded to set-top box”.

On the network side, TalkTalk will be hoping last week’s news of the legal separation of BT and Openreach can help it close the gap on Virgin Media in particular.

And with BT having forked out €1.2 billion for European football rights, Habdank says TalkTalk can be “entirely neutral” by offering customers what content is most relevant to them, no matter what channel it is on.

There is also the opportunity to be “far more disruptive in terms of packages and pricing,” according to Habdank.

He explains: “We don’t have legacy of millions of customers paying £30-40 a month for TV… it is difficult to change from that model.”

The pressure is now on Habdanks and his team to turn talk into subscribers and revenues.

With memories of the hack beginning to fade, a new TV offering and a new CEO set to take the reins in May, 2017 is set to be a pivotal year.

TalkTalk remains a challenger in the TV market and Habdank acknowledges that making the company a credible alternative to Sky, Virgin and BT is his biggest challenge.

He thinks they have a sporting chance.

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