Competition is a way of life for Ben Lovins. As Jackson Energy Authority’s telecom svp, he is in a constant race to stay ahead of larger rivals Charter and AT&T as they battle for market share in the Tennessee city of less than 70,000. He estimates JEA subs account for 55% of the market.
“Because we are in direct competition with Charter [and AT&T] here in this market, the biggest thing we sell is service and making your life easier and more enjoyable,” Lovins says. That desire to provide the best experience for customers drove Lovins and JEA to begin building one of the country’s first fiber-tothe- home networks back in 2003 before even launching commercial broadband service in 2004. Similarly, it has served as motivation to reinvest about $10 million in upgrading JEA’s entire system to GPON gigabit technology to increase speed and reliability.
Most recently, Lovins sought to provide JEA customers with a single interface for all their video entertainment needs. While JEA in 2015 only offered traditional Arris boxes with a grid-style guide, Lovins envisioned a feature-rich guide offering that also included OTT options, eliminating the need for switching TV inputs and essentially creating a one-device solution.
Lovins did his due diligence researching and testing IPTV solutions, but wasn’t satisfied. He was impressed with TiVo’s set-top box offering, but like many smaller operators across the country, knew it wasn’t feasible to do a direct integration with TiVo.
“They would admit to you that they didn’t have the wherewithal to even mess with somebody who had fewer than 100,000 basic video subs,” says NCTC senior director Doug Hull of TiVo.
So, when the NCTC began planning a solution that would allow a group of smaller operators to combine their purchasing power to forge a deal with TiVo, a certain 16,000-sub system from Tennessee was among the first to jump on board.
“They’ve been a really good steward for us along the way on this project,” Hull says of JEA. “They were one of the first to jump in. Even before we had a lot of the questions answered, and certainly there was no ink on paper yet, but they were fully supportive in going down this path with us.”
He adds, “I can’t tell you how many operators we’ve sent over to his facility to tour and meet with his staff and go through everything that it entails from an operator’s point of view to get into the TiVo deployment.” The TiVo solution allows JEA to continue using its existing infrastructure and customers’ existing cable wiring to provide VOD for the first time, plus a best-in-class interface that incorporates customers’ OTT subscriptions. Search results on the TiVo guide not only include what’s on live linear cable, but also programming available via customers’ Netfl ix or Hulu accounts.
JEA made its involvement in the multi-operator solution official in November 2015 and began offering the TiVo boxes to its customers the following April. In about a year, JEA has installed about 800 TiVo units for 600 subscribers, a number Lovins said is growing by the month. “People have absolutely loved the guide,” he says. “I would argue it’s best in class. We wanted something we could roll out at a reasonable cost and quickly and get it into our customers’ hands, and that’s what the federated TiVo solution allowed us to do.”
– Alex Silverman