Market Watch

Charter.net Plans to Offer Video Search Engine for Top Content

November 10, 2011

Laura Aguilera Laura Aguilera Senior Research Analyst, Service Providers & Platforms
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Charter Communications, the fourth largest US cable operator, has announced plans to launch an integrated search on Charter.net that will provide search results for content available on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and Hulu, as well as video available directly from Charter.

For content on subscription-based services- Netflix, Amazon and Hulu Plus, Charter will provide a link. Separate subscriptions to those services are required in order to view related content.

Charter.net will also provide embedded playback of Hulu's free-to-view content, alongside authenticated video services which include BTN2Go, Epix, ESPN3, HBO Go, and Max Go. The website also displays listings from Charter's linear TV and VOD services with information on how to access that content on TV.

The integrated search is planned to launch by late November. Charter also plans to expand the online directory to tablets and mobile devices over the course of the next year.

Analysis
Charter's move is intended to position its site at the heart of customers' premium online viewing and attract customers to its broadband service. In doing so it is telling that Charter is reaching beyond the authenticated services from its pay TV partners to include a number of the leading standalone online video services. In a sense, then this move represents something of a reposition of the pay TV operator's role as the gatekeeper for premium content and it allows Charter to offer a wider range of content to customers without spending significant extra money on content acquisition - cost cutting is definitely of clear importance given Charter's 2009 chapter 11 filing.

To put this offer in context, the company gained 53,200 residential internet customers in Q3 2011, while losing 65,000 basic video subscribers in the same quarter. Broadband is the definite growth segment for the company which now states broadband is its core business. However it is doubtful that the company will abandon its TV business overnight, considering the respective value per subscriber- $64 monthly ARPU for TV, $42 for broadband. Charter's TV business represents 55 per cent of its total subscription revenue.

However, the impact of the integrated search is not likely to be dramatic, at least not in the near term, for a number of reasons including:

  • the online offer will still only account for a small portion of Charter's customer's viewing time
  • running an attractive video service as much, if not more, about curation and recommendation as it is about search.

Consequently in order for this to become the 'go to' centralised video search site for its subscribers, the system will need to be further implemented to offer an exciting value proposition that will give subscribers a reason to go there in the first place. A directory is not an exciting value proposition for consumers, and for Charter to see dividends from its venture, the ability for subscribers to view VoD content relevant to their subscription is also necessary.

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