AT&T Makes Video-Streaming Splash

AT&T on Monday announced a new service to compete with such video-on-demand offerings as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

The service, called “U-verse Screen Pack,” is aimed at its U-verse customers, offering unlimited access to AT&T’s library of some 1,500 movies from a TV, computer or wireless device. The service will cost US$5 a month.

At that price point, it is competitive with, if not undercutting, its rivals. Late last year, Amazon began testing a new monthly option for its Prime video-streaming service at $7.99 per month. Netflix’s streaming video service also clocks in at $7.99 per month.

Plugging a Hole

AT&T is plugging a hole in its product line up with this offering, said Mike Judd, program manager of consumer communication services at Frost & Sullivan.

This could be the beginning of AT&T extending the U-verse experience beyond its traditional customers.

“I see it as a logical move — something they had to do,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Competitive Price vs. Content vs. Convenience

The price will be a winning factor with customers, Judd continued. The downside is that Screen Pack “probably won’t have the same level of content as other competitors’ offerings.”

For a sizable number of customers, the convenience element will be the deciding factor, he noted.

“If you are a U-verse customer and have a Web-enabled TV, you are probably juggling several remotes,” said Judd. “There is that convenience factor that would convince many people to get their movie content from AT&T.”

The Changing Face of TV

The new offering will impact AT&T’s U-verse customer base, of course, but it also speaks volumes about the future direction of television and consumers’ demand for digital content, saidJeff Kagan, independent telecom analyst.

“Consumers now expect to not only be able to watch TV but also have access to a variety of other features enabled by broadband or wireless,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Service providers such as U-verse are jumping to meet this demand — in some cases reacting defensively and in others taking the offensive.

“The industry recognizes this is an exciting new opportunity to carve out new market share,” Kagan said.

The downside is that it’s not clear how to leverage these opportunities.

“None of these executives have a clue about how the economics will work out. They will worry about profitability as the industry matures,” Kagan said.

“This is an entirely new world we are moving into, and you don’t know what services will be killer apps and which will not make it,” he continued. “The industry will try a bunch of things, and some will work out — others won’t.”

U-verse has been relatively quiet for the last year or two, Kagan said, despite being a serious competitor to the cable TV industry. Screen Pack “will let them leapfrog into a more advanced and profitable position.”

Some Features Lacking

Screen Pack is a good answer to AT&T U-verse’s limitations, but it is still lacking some functionality,Marc Price, CTO Americas of Openet told the E-Commerce Times.

“It doesn’t provide a richer set of search and discovery functions,” he pointed out. “Nor does it provide recommendations of what movies you might like to watch or a better way to discover content.”

That said, it is a giant step in the right direction for the company, he added. “It gives subscribers more choice beyond the traditional cable lineup.”

A U-verse spokesperson was not immediately available to provide further details.

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Sports Betting Platforms Gambling With Substandard CX

Online gambling is at an all-time high in accessibility and popularity. But many betting app developers are rolling the dice blindly without addressing users’ customer experience (CX) concerns.

More states in the U.S. are legalizing sports betting with legislation pending in many others. Major sports leagues such as the NFL and the PGA Tour are adding legitimacy to the organized sports betting space by securing high-profile gambling partners. Sportsbooks like FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, and Caesars are expanding in concert.

With money on the line, literally, with betting apps, these companies have a heightened burden to provide customer support. That could well be a survival requirement since many of their online bettors have never previously gambled on sports, let alone placed bets via mobile apps.

Appeasing Regulators

So far, sports betting platform rollouts in new states have been relatively seamless. Yet some obvious CX issues must be addressed before watchdogs and regulators step in.

Sports betting companies need to tackle four potential stumbling blocks:

  1. The product is still new to many customers. Gambling companies need to clear up confusion on the legal methods of sports betting and drive confidence that bets will be paid out.
  2. Most sports betting companies are pushing mobile apps for daily usage and interaction, leaving a strong need for tech support to help with logins and payment issues.
  3. Geolocation issues are a major factor. If users are near bordering states where sports betting is illegal, their phones might mistake them for being in the wrong location and their bets will not go through.
  4. Seasonality. Major sporting events such as the Super Bowl, March Madness, The Masters, FIFA World Cup, and the World Series amplify betting activity. As a result, gambling companies must have robust CX infrastructures in place to handle increased seasonal demand.

One of the biggest challenges is volume projection and staffing due to the sector’s rapid growth and lack of historical data, according to Chris Crowley, chief commercial officer for CX provider Alorica. A significant and continuous increase in users is coming from existing states, as well as new states legalizing sports betting apps.

“As the user base increases there is an increase in transactions across voice, chat, and email — especially from new users and novice users of sports betting apps. The ability to develop the appropriate staffing models and to train the staff effectively is crucial to delivering an exceptional customer experience,” he told CRM Buyer.

Betting on Digital-First Stability

Another big test for the sportsbooks, noted Crowley, will be finding the bandwidth to handle peak seasons when major sporting events drive a flurry of betting activity.

To withstand scrutiny from regulators and watchdogs, these companies require trained staff who can work with customers across voice, chat, text, and email.

“Like other digital-first companies that are born highly focused on product, sports betting companies may not yet fully appreciate the need for tech support and account management,” he cautioned.

For example, most sportsbooks rely on website FAQs to support their customers. Many of the new customers are gambling on sports for the very first time.

CX is critical to handle these concerns because money is involved. Customers rightly want access to a support person when they spend money to get something in return, such as a bet to win or deposit to get a bonus or free bet.

App Speed Risky Business

Logistically, the speed of the app interface makes betting easier. But it also increases the risk of mistakes, warned Crowley. That is why it is crucial to have knowledgeable and readily-available support offerings from live agents and automated channels.

Fierce competition to develop repeat customers makes CX crucial to this emerging market. Companies such as DraftKings, Caesars, BetMGM, and others are currently spending tremendous amounts of money to rapidly grow their user bases through aggressive marketing.

“To get the necessary return on this investment, they must develop user loyalty as it is so easy for users to jump to another app. One poor service experience can turn a novice bettor off forever,” said Crowley.

Another reason CX is important is sports betting has its own community and lingo. It can be unkind to newcomers who do not have a firm understanding of betting odds and how promotions work.

“A big issue surrounds where ‘free’ does not always mean free. Having a customer service team backed by a real CX strategy gives new users a lifeline to figure out the nuts and bolts of sports betting,” he explained.

Driving Factors

Social acceptance of sports betting is now common. State governments increasingly are becoming supportive of the industry.

Additionally, with the rise of second screens, sports fans have found new online communities that share their love of the game, Crowley noted. Fans today are often on Twitter and Reddit while watching their teams play, reading and reacting to what other people have to say about the game.

This further encourages fan engagement. Online sports betting has benefited from the influence of social media and, to an extent, cord-cutting, which has evolved the way we consume sports, Crowley observed.

“As sports betting gains wider social acceptance and state legalization continues, the industry will rapidly grow. For many, sports betting has become synonymous with watching and attending sports events,” he said.

In a short period of time, this will be an ingrained part of our social norms. The number of American adults betting on sports doubled in the last year alone. It is crucial that companies in this sector invest in a robust CX operation and explore strategic partnerships with vendors that can keep customer engagement impactful, secure, and scalable, urged Crowley.

Morphing World of Rules and Regs

The regulatory environment is rapidly changing in the mobile sports betting industry and online gambling.

Overall, online sports betting platforms are progressing with new functionality at breakneck speeds due to the fast changes in state regulations and requirements. Most of the major sportsbooks and online sites are still in the process of obtaining required licenses in recently-legalized states.

The Supreme Court decision in Murphy v. NCAA gave states the ability to pass their own sports betting legislation. Some 30 states — plus D.C. — have legalized sports betting with 22 legalized for mobile and online sports betting. Twelve states have active or pre-filed legislation on the ballot for 2022.

State laws vary greatly. Regulations range from betting in onsite casinos versus mobile/online to the age of bettors. Restrictions cover the types of bets, such as collegiate sports versus pro contests. Tax rates vary by state also.

Some states allow tribal and commercial casinos. Others like Oregon, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island only allow one or the other, or a state lottery commission runs the betting.

“Like any consumer-facing industry, there are also protections around personally identifiable information,” Crowley said. “As sports betting and mobile/online wagering become more common across different state jurisdictions, the landscape will only continue to evolve.”

On Deck, Real-Time Customer Service

Online sports betting requires unambiguous fairness and transparency. The entire customer journey should be shepherded by a customer support offering that can resolve issues in real time.

The typical response time so far is 24 to 48 hours later for some betting companies, according to Crowley. This process includes accessing relevant information, placing bets, and collecting the winnings.

“The industry would be wise to establish a new CX standard, one that will give confidence in the integrity of this emerging business model,” he recommended.

Plenty of disclosures, FAQs and robust “help” systems with omnichannel functionality will become the norm in the mobile and online sports betting experience, he concluded.

Jack M. Germain

Jack M. Germain has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2003. His main areas of focus are enterprise IT, Linux and open-source technologies. He is an esteemed reviewer of Linux distros and other open-source software. In addition, Jack extensively covers business technology and privacy issues, as well as developments in e-commerce and consumer electronics. Email Jack.

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