Optus signals multimedia push with National Geographic partnership

In the next phase of its bid to become a top content provider, Optus is moving from media to multimedia and focusing more on the personalisation of content, CEO Allen Lew told ZDNet.

Optus has announced a new entertainment partnership with National Geographic, in what CEO Allen Lew told ZDNet is the telecommunications company's next move to become a "mobile-led multimedia service provider".

Optus' goal remains to be a top content provider in Australia, Lew told ZDNet.

"That's certainly our vision. I think we want to move to a position where we talk ... not just about connectivity, a very transactional type of experience; we want to be able to talk to them more about emotional stuff," he said.

"Now that we are three years down the road with content, we can say we are starting to change the game very significantly."

According to Lew, who had previously said that Optus is a unique position to be the first in Australia to take advantage of the convergence between telecommunications, media, and technology, there are four "proof points" involved in Optus becoming a multimedia company: Having a network capable of carrying media content; understanding people's needs for content; moving beyond live content into multimedia content; and personalising content for individual users.

"We have invested AU$5.5 billion over the last three years to make sure that we increase the breadth and depth of Optus' network in the capital cities, as well as out in the regions, so I think that part there is the key foundation and we have that," Lew told ZDNet.

"The second part of a multimedia business is to understand content and people's needs for content. And we did that one year ago, when we started to become a broadcaster of live content. Live content is the most difficult content to put across a network because of the fact that it's happening at the same time as the game or the match is happening.

"The [third] step is to then go beyond just providing live video content, which we've done with football, to providing truly multimedia content, and to make that available to every single Australian ... personalisation is the last leg of what we need to do, and we will use the data information we know about people to give them a relevant experience."

Under the National Geographic partnership, Optus will offer an app providing customers with data-free access to Nat Geo's video, photo, and magazine content, which will remain exclusive in Australia to Optus customers for 18 months.

The app, which Lew said will be publicly available "very soon", will be included free of charge for AU$40 per month and above post-paid My Plan Plus/Flex and My Plan Business/Flex customers. Content will be personalised for each customer.

At launch, the app will contain access to approximately 5,000 videos; the National Geographic and Nat Geo Wild live TV channels; more than 28,000 photos; all National Geographic magazines from January 2009; the 1888 full first edition of National Geographic magazine; all articles published online since the beginning of 2014; National Geographic's live Instagram feed; and exclusive additional video content produced by Optus and Nat Geo.

Optus will also collaborate with Nat Geo on producing its own content in 2018, with Lew telling ZDNet that the two will work together to firstly find a topic to engage viewers, and then work with experts in that area.

They have not yet decided whether it will be one long-form piece of content or multiple short pieces, he added, but the planning of such content will be informed by the data collected from people using the app between now and then.

National Geographic CTO Marcus East told ZDNet that the company hired We See Dragons to develop its app, with the process starting around 18 months ago.

The project was a "major global collaboration", National Geographic Australia MD Jacqui Feeney added, with the company choosing Optus after discussions with "a broad range of people" in Australia ahead of global launches with unnamed partners in additional markets worldwide.

Optus' self-described transformation into a multimedia company began with its acquisition of the exclusive Australian broadcast rights for the English Premier League a year and a half ago.

Lew told ZDNet that Optus has the Premier League subscriber numbers it was expecting, but wants to ramp this up during the upcoming 2017-18 football season by implementing more "interactive" and multimedia-focused elements to the experience.

"The first season has gone well for us. For us, it was mainly proving to ourselves that we could do it, and that we set out the proper process and systems to bring a live match all the way to Australia and have a reliable network," he said.

"It's been a learning experience for us; our investments in terms of deepening the depth of our network, creating greater capacity, enhancing the speed, that's certainly given us the confidence to be able to do even better in season two than we did in season one."

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