CenturyLink CTO Outlines OTT Plan

Telco Preps In-Footprint, Out-of-Footprint Streaming Services
Prism Stream ad.jpg

CenturyLink has been discussing plans to launch a new duo of over-the-top services for months, and this week one of its top execs shed a bit more light on how the telco intends to deliver new video streaming services inside and outside its Prism TV footprint.

CenturyLink has “soft-launched” an in-footprint service called Prism Stream, a multiscreen offering that delivers the telco’s traditional Prism TV service over-the-top, Aamir Hussain, CenturyLink’s CTO, said Wednesday at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media And Telecom Conference in San Francisco.

He said the OTT approach will allow CenturyLink to deliver pay TV packages using less bandwidth while rapidly expanding its Prism TV footprint.

Going over-the-top, he explained, will reduce the minimum bandwidth requirement for Prism from 25 Mbps, to 10 Mbps.

“We can literally double the size of our footprint in a very short period of time by doing that,” Hussain said.

CenturyLink ended 2015 with 3.2 million homes enabled for Prism TV, its managed IPTV service that is currently powered by the Ericsson Mediaroom platform. It added  16,000 Prism TV subs in Q4, ending the year with 285,000.

Hussain also stressed that the Prism Stream product is tagged for CenturyLink’s Prism TV franchise areas, and will deliver essentially the same content package. However, customers will be able to access Prism Stream on a variety of devices, Hussain noted, offering Roku players and mobile devices as examples.

CenturyLink has not formally announced pricing and packaging for Prism Stream. However, a Web site has posted a large batch of “launch campaign concepts” for Prism Stream (Update: the page has been taken down), touting how the service enables customers to access video service on the go, with the message “any seat is the best seat in the house.”

According to that concept art, Prism Stream provides a “new way to stream live TV and a huge library of On Demand content on up to 5 devices.”

The campaign concept also shows how CenturyLink might try to generate leads -- using ads/signs in high-traffic areas telling consumers that they can tap in (over cellular or WiFi, presumably) to get a 30-minute preview of the Prism Stream service in exchange for their email addresses.

Hussain also said CenturyLink is entering the trial phase on an OTT service catering to millennial audiences that delivers a smaller package, and will be offered outside the Prism footprint.

That second product, he said, is “pretty close” to one of the OTT services AT&T is developing and expected to launch in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Hussain said CenturyLink is set to trial that millennials-focused OTT service in four markets, but did not identify them.

“The platform has been built,” he said. “The content agreements have almost been negotiated.”

But the plan early on, he added, is about “learning to walk before we run” and see what kind of penetration such a service could achieve.

And CenturyLink believes it has a good reason to push video products, as 50% of subs on Prism TV today are new to CenturyLink, and 98% of Prism customers also get broadband from the telco. 

“There’s a huge amount of pull-through that comes in [with video],” Hussain said.