Service providers continue to invest heavily to build quad-play bundles, many with high hopes for lower churn and better margins. The value of these bundles to customers and service providers is yet to be proven. However, with increasing share of the market, quad-play bundles cannot be ignored.
The Quad-Play Balancing Act: Understanding the Business Model
By Michael Dargue and Jennifer Lin
Service providers continue to invest heavily to build quad-play bundles, many with high hopes for lower churn and better margins. The value of these bundles to customers and service providers is yet to be proven. However, with increasingly share of the market, quad-play bundles cannot be ignored.
Quad-play bundles have been available since the mid-2000s, although their presence was limited to relatively few countries. Since these early bundles, the landscape in both fixed and mobile markets has been transformed by the proliferation of smartphones, increasing product substitution with over-the-top (OTT) content delivery options, and operator consolidation. With global quad-play subscription growth at a CAGR of 25% between 2014 and 2019, hesitant service providers must reevaluate their strategic position towards bundling.
Quad-play bundles combine fixed broadband, fixed voice, and paid TV services with mobile voice and data services. Like dual-play and triple-play predecessors, the quad-play bundle is a calculated effort on the part of service providers to reduce churn, increase revenue, and claim greater market share. This report illustrates the key factors that service providers must consider to address this nascent market.
Today’s Quad-Play Market
Based on the experience of selected Western European markets, consumer demand for quad-play bundles not only exists, but can also redefine a broadband market. In 2014, over 30% of wireline broadband subscriptions in Portugal and Spain were quad-play bundles (see Figure 1), a percentage that is expected to increase to approximately 60% over five years.
High levels of quad-play adoption, however, are not universal. In 2014, the five largest quad-play markets in Western Europe accounted for approximately 60% of all quad-play subscriptions; France alone comprised over 25% of global quad-play subscriptions. Neighboring operators in the UK and Germany also offer quad-play bundles, but have yet to see the level of penetration among quad-play leaders. In the US, where quad-play bundles have been offered for almost a decade, penetration is just 1.5%.
Figure 1. Quad-Play Bundle Subscriptions
Sources: Ovum, Ofcom
The success of a quad-play bundle, however, relies on more than high consumer uptake. That uptake must be primarily driven by untapped consumer demand for connectivity solutions at a different price point, rather than by consumers simply seeking lower prices for the services they already purchase separately. French and Spanish households often save upwards of 20% through bundling; the US, by contrast, offers savings closer to 2%. The business decision to discount, and to what degree, remains an open question.
Challenges to the Quad-Play Bundle
Although marketed as the next step in the bundling evolution from triple-play, the quad-play bundle challenges how service providers coordinate, package, sell, and enable services. Fixed service providers offer households all-you-can-eat subscriptions, but mobile operators often charge individuals based on usage. Operators must effectively segment customers according to both their fixed and mobile preferences. Customers expect consistent service and standard billing, but inter-operator agreements that provide a quad-play service are subject to revision, putting margins at risk.
Furthermore, these providers still face the inherent risks of product bundling, including the cannibalization of existing revenue streams, particularly that of the still growing triple-play market.
Figure 2. Benefits and Challenges of Quad-Play, Compared to Dual- and Triple-Play
Does the Business Case for Bundling Stack Up?
The value of quad-play bundles has been a source of controversy. Some service providers suggest that quad-play bundles are only relevant to “high-end” markets with sufficient wealth, where upsell and cross-sell opportunities are more lucrative. Others question quad-play bundles more fundamentally.
Tele2’s CEO, Mats Granryd, has argued, “The buying patterns [for fixed and mobile services] are completely different…in places we have launched 4G, the mobile service is in fact a great replacement for the fixed service.” Ronan Dunne, the CEO of O2, shares a similar skepticism of quad-play bundles, stating that price cuts and a quad-play bundle is neither a value-add nor a potential source of differentiation among quad-play providers.
These disagreements reflect the difficulty in quantifying the long-term returns on a quad-play investment. Reduced rates of churn may be indicative of high cannibalization, as loyal customers receive discounts on services they would have already purchased separately. The gains may also be temporary as more operators develop their quad-play products.
For some service providers, interest in quad-play bundles is likely to go beyond a desire to lessen inter-operator churn. The traditional fixed and mobile value chain is already under threat from a new wave of competitors.
Alternative OTT content providers can be used as a cheaper substitute to Pay-TV services, and in July 2014, over 40% of American homes did not have a landline. These developments challenge the value of the bundled components, but it is also an opportunity: the quad-play market may be a way to segment customers effectively so that the cross-selling and up-selling of products can combat these declines.
Quad-Play Value Propositions
The structure of a quad-play bundle can discount prices relative to purchasing the core services on their own, include extra services or products, or provide a combination of discounts and extras. At its core, the choice of structure will determine the bundle’s ability to price differentiate among customers, reducing threats such as cannibalization or product substitution, and achieve economies of scale.
Figure 3. Quad-Play Value Proposition Comparison
Effective bundle design must be able to mediate the costs and benefits of cannibalization, changes in churn, the amount of upsell, the costs of integration, and economies of scale. The number of moving components requires detailed analysis to achieve a deeper level of insight into the market.
For long-term success, bundles must be able to adjust for evolving consumer habits and preferences, new services, and a changing competitive landscape. Today’s customers may look to premium TV content and superfast broadband capabilities as fundamental sources of differentiation among quad-play bundles; tomorrow’s customers may not.
Identifying Quad-Play Opportunities
The development of a quad-play bundle is a significant investment. A service provider may need to pursue acquisitions and partnerships to provide all four services, integrate technologies and systems, coordinate marketing, and develop new models to understand consumer behavior.
Given that latecomers to the quad-play market may lose access to the resources necessary to provide a quad-play bundle, the ability to identify when and where quad-play opportunities will emerge is key to success in this space. In our experience, factors that service providers can use to identify the quad-play opportunities have included:
- Availability of network access through acquisition, leasing, or wholesale purchases.
- The wealth of the region, where upsell and cross-sell may have a larger impact.
- The degree of competition for market share, where mature markets may have seen aggressive competition among service providers.
- The availability and cost of premium content and potential value-add perks.
- The ability to segment customers efficiently, such that bundling may be better able to price differentiate among consumers.
Past Market Experiences: Churn and Margins
Reported reductions in churn in the quad-play market have been substantial: in France, Orange reported 3% less churn among its quad-play customers, relative to its other broadband customers; in the UK, Virgin Media has a quad-play churn rate that is half of that of its triple-play products. While impressive, these reductions in churn may not be causal: quad-play may simply attract pre-existing low-churn customers. Furthermore, competition within the quad-play market is still growing and initial churn reduction may disappear as more operators enter the market.
Not all of the quad-play bundle is good news either. While 1% of those who purchased digital TV as a standalone service switched providers, 3% subscribers of digital TV bundles switched. A UK consumer survey found greater customer satisfaction with quad-play bundles, yet a future propensity to switch roughly equivalent to that of triple-play bundles. Another UK data point is TalkTalk’s recent quad-play bundle, which has found considerable success in attracting new customers, but at an implementation cost of over £10M ($15M USD) more than expected.
Churn and margin benefits therefore deserve considerable scrutiny by any operator looking to launch a quad-play service. Quad-play business cases are often finely balanced, and miscalculation can be costly.
In conclusion, while the ability of quad-play to deliver lower churn and better margins remains unclear, there is no doubt that quad-play bundles have the capability to disrupt fixed and mobile markets. Because of this, they cannot be ignored – their impact will be felt across both fixed and mobile markets. Winners in this space must continuously monitor the market, assess where and when quad-play emerge, and develop the optimal propositions ahead of time. Service providers must strategize far in advance to be ready to attack or respond when quad-play opportunities arise.<>
 London Evening Standard
 Mobile News, Wall Street Journal
 Ernst and Young (2014)