SF Studios – A Conversation with Ted Björling, OTT Video Manager
What You’ll Learn:
Ted Björling is OTT Video Manager for Swedish video on demand service SF Studios, the leading OTT provider in the Nordic region. They have been working with MPP Global to improve the flexibility and scalability of their subscription and payments services, so we spoke to Ted about how the project has gone so far.
What were you trying to achieve with your platforms?
When we launched SF Kids, the idea was to monetize the strong content catalogue we had in the Nordics, with brands like Pippi Longstocking and the Astrid Lindgren titles, because we know they’re really beloved by children across the generations.
So we had a really strong proposition in our SF Kids service that would be a good driver for adoption and we’ve added a lot of other material as well. We wanted to bring that content out of our library and monetize it and make it available in an easy and really user-friendly manner.
We have a lot of households with kids who are getting used to consuming online content and at the same time there is online content available on YouTube and other sites, but as a parent you are a bit hesitant, as it is not really safe; there are videos a couple of clicks away that are not suited for children. So we realised we wanted a walled garden to give an experience 100% tailored for children that would be safe and easy to use for even small children.
For SF Anytime, we started in the early 2000s when the technology was just about getting ready for immediate delivery. You have to remember that broadband connections were not what we have today, so that’s why we started to also have a B2B offering as that was a natural way to stream movies via a set-top box. This has proven to be quite successful since then as we have two strong offerings, not cannibalizing each other but complementing each other.
The B2C offering is where our main focus has been for quite some time, and the idea is that would be our scalable business going forward now that people are used to paying for online content and streaming media is really popular. We can see in our business that adoption has really taken off in the last couple of years, so the gamble of a strong B2C offering for SF Anytime has really paid off.
What were your biggest challenges to overcome?
One of the key challenges we faced when we wanted to build a scalable media service that was easy to use and would entice customers was to have a scalable way of managing our customers and providing a smooth payment journey. At the same time, we wanted to provide the excellent media streaming experience that our customers would expect, across all the devices that people have in their households.
Right now, people are getting more and more digitally native and expect the same experience on your TV or your mobile phone or website and that’s a lot of effort to keep it running. It’s a huge challenge but a really rewarding one.
Having a very strong ecommerce engine is so important because you need to make sure the correct customer is receiving the correct material and it needs to be very scalable. We saw from the start that the market was very large in the Nordics and we wanted to have a solution that was able to scale to help us reach that.
We knew the potential of the market and we wanted to have all the components in the platform to be as scalable as possible as otherwise we would reach a hard limit and wouldn’t be able to offer the experience we wanted to offer.
What led to you looking for a new provider?
We were at the point where the components in our platform really did not meet our requirements so we started to look for solutions to address the problems of managing our customers and the payment journeys and entitlements. That’s really the core of the solution; to have a component that takes that responsibility to cater for that.
So we went into the market, looked at the different vendors and we needed someone who was reliable, had a state of the art solution that was scalable and flexible. We knew that we have our requirements right now, but we have a lot more ambition, so we wanted a solution that would scale with our business, our technology and our customers.
Ultimately that process led us to MPP Global and we’d quickly seen that it was a strong solution that we could grow together with. Our existing solution was bespoke and home-grown, but had already become a legacy software, so we now had software that was being actively developed by a partner and that really fit the bill for us for years to come.
It solved the requirements we knew we had and it did even more than that, opening up a lot of potential we didn’t have the questions for, but we could see the answers in the platform. We also found a solution in eSuite that we could scale across multiple services in the same platform, which is a testament to its quality, which we didn’t have in our previous platform.
How did the implementation process go?
When we selected eSuite we initiated the implementation project and had the onboarding phase where we engaged with their integration experts and account managers and for the entire migration process we had great support from them in terms of defining the integrations, the architecture we wanted to achieve. We also had to keep in mind the existing solution during the migration so we really needed the expertize of MPP Global to help us to minimise any potential impact on the customers.
We really got great support during the onboarding process and even more so defining the migration and implementation process, getting it off the ground as quickly as possible. We got a lot of good support from the operational support team, who really knew all the ins and outs of the eSuite platform, and we got clear and informative answers to our queries quickly.
When you get swift replies and really good insights into a platform, that gives you a lot of confidence that you made the right choice of vendor, especially during the onboarding process, when that kind of support is critical. Even after the launch, in the operational phase, we still get that, which is very reassuring.
What benefits have you seen from using eSuite?
The standout benefit of the eSuite platform is that is offers a software solution to the challenge of managing our customers and payments, which is quite a headache to do by yourselves. To have a partner that solves this with the quality that we need in those journeys is reassuring.
Coupled with that, another benefit of the eSuite platform is that it’s so flexible and we know that when new requirements come from the business, there’s more than often a solution there already that we can use and bring new ideas to the market really quickly, which gives us as customers the speed to market and we feel confident that we can innovate on the platform.
A little while back we wanted to change some of our pricing and in the eSuite platform was basically a ten minute exercise, it was really quick and allowed us to change our business proposition to our end consumers really rapidly, while in our old solution it would have been a long process to even make that happen.
Another benefit is our ability to really work with our offers and voucher codes and to be really flexible in that solution because it’s a core part of our business to work with different offerings to entice customers. Having a flexible, user-friendly experience to manage all of that in eSuite is really helping the business to fulfil its goals and requirements.
When working with the MPP Global team we have a continuous dialogue with our account managers and product owners to really understand the road map and influence it to meet our business requirements.
Having that is extremely helpful for us as we get insights into what is happening with the product and we can adjust our part of the platform to cater for that as we know that one of the part of the advantages of being part of a platform such as eSuite is that you get to reap the benefits of the continuously improved product and road map items that are improving the solution, in contrast to having your own bespoke platform where you have to drive that yourself.
By knowing the inner works of the platform through our discussions with the MPP Global support team, we can optimize our side of the equation too and having that really has tied us together quite closely and we have a mutual understanding from the small details up to the higher strategic road map items. Having that has proven to be really beneficial.
Using the eSuite platform we were able to scale our customer offering in a way that we couldn’t do previously. If we went back a couple of years, we regularly had issues during peak times like Christmas, where our platform couldn’t manage all the customers coming into the service. Since we have migrated, we simply don’t have that problem anymore, it just works.
Another problem we had was to bring new content to the market and having it go all the way through our platform, which used to be a hassle because it took a long time and it was inconsistent because sometimes it just didn’t work. Since we migrated to eSuite, we don’t have that problem and it frees our mind to think of new opportunities rather than making operational things work.
What’s next for SF Studios?
In terms of next steps, it’s about how can we make the payment journey better and shorten the time between finding a piece of content and consuming it, we want to remove all of the hurdles in the checkout process in all our services. If you do a funnel analysis, people are losing focus at every step and leaving the process. We want to remove that as much as possible,
We’re going to look at adding additional payment methods and working with different options on the market today to really let people use the payment methods they are comfortable with in this day and age.
In the Nordics, there are very regional payment methods that we feel we need to support and aren’t at the moment, but backed by the eSuite platform we are looking at adding that to our offering and we think that will really help drive adoption across our services.
We’re looking at what the popular payment modes are in the market when it comes to ecommerce. In Sweden we have something called Swish which is a direct bank transfer mobile application that has grown really popular for peer to peer and for ecommerce. We’re looking at the equivalent in Norway which is Vipps, while in Denmark you have MobilePay.
We also have invoicing services such as Klarna, which has grown very popular and people are expecting to have those payment methods available in the Nordic regions, whereas traditionally a lot of media and ecommerce services have relied on credit and debit card payments. It’s definitely something we’re looking at offering.
We’re also going to focus a lot on protecting customer data and keeping it safe and only using the data we need for our business, in order to comply with GDPR and other regulations that will be dictating this from now on. We feel that the eSuite platform is a key component in that in helping us to preserve the trust of our customers. That’s going to be a key focus for us other the next few months.
What advice do you have for companies who are in the position you were in a few years ago?
My advice to similar TV and OTT companies is to focus on your core customer proposition, what you should excel at, which would be the streaming of media, and what best of breed solutions you should look at to complement that.
In terms of managing subscriptions, customer records and the payment journey, those are hard problems and you should really look at finding a provider for those that is reliable, flexible and offers the scalability you will require if you grow.
You shouldn’t focus on finding the one platform to rule them all because that would mean trade-offs, so you should make sure you provide the platform using the components that are best in class to make that happen.
Read the SF Studios Case Study
You can get more information about what MPP Global did for SF Studios with our full cast study, with details on providing single customer view, flexible integrations and payment solutions plus PCI compliance.