As executive VP of digital platforms at Charter Communications, Jodi Robinson is the go-to digital chieftain at the cable company, leading its video product management, customer self-service platforms, internal design agency and its data platforms organization.
A graduate of Stanford University, Robinson joined Charter in 2014 as senior VP. She has led its digital platforms organization since 2019 and its user experience design and development organization since joining the company. Prior to Charter, Robinson was VP of Internet & Interactive Technology at Starz, where she played a big role in developing TV Everywhere apps and digital products for the programmer and was responsible for all online, digital and consumer-facing technology and video solutions. Before joining Starz, she held a number of roles of software development and architecture roles at Level 3 Communications and Sun Microsystems. In short, she knows her stuff.
Robinson took the time out recently to answer a few questions about Charter’s digital strategy and its Spectrum TV App from Multichannel News senior content producer – finance, Mike Farrell. Here’s an edited transcript.
MCN: Obviously, consumers are accessing video and other services differently today than even just a few years ago. What is Charter doing to make that experience better?
Jodi Robinson: The video business is changing and we are innovating accordingly, reaching our customers wherever and whenever they want. We are largely able to accomplish this through the growth and expanded capabilities of the Spectrum TV App. It is robust and heavily used by our customers, making it the most-viewed streaming app in the country on an hours-per-household basis. It’s also currently the highest-rated pay TV streaming app in the US; we’re quite proud of the strides we’ve made to better serve our customers on this front.
While the app is growing and performing well, we also continue to enhance the traditional video experience. Spectrum Guide is now offered to virtually all new customers across our footprint. Within Spectrum Guide, and keeping with our theme of choice, we now offer Netflix, HBO Max and YouTube, and have plans to add more apps in the near future.
Another way we are enabling customer choice is through the Spectrum Access app, which we launched last year. It is a free app, available to all users in the U.S. that enables playback of audio description and closed captioning directly from a user’s personal device. This product is unique to Charter and exemplifies our commitment to creating products that work for all customers.
We also launched the Spectrum News App last year, which provides local news feeds from all the Spectrum News networks, original content produced specifically for the app, and curated content from partner news organizations.
MCN: What do you see as the most important aspect of your digital strategy? What’s the most difficult part of that?
JR: In order to succeed, we need to continuously adapt to meet the expectations of our customers, be as accessible as possible and stay ahead of trends in the industry. This means we must stay nimble and be prepared at all times to meet the needs of our customers. A big part of that strategy today is in the way we are delivering connectivity — as a converged and integrated service that includes mobile and broadband. Delivering ubiquitous connectivity allows our customers to work and learn on the go while also maintaining access to entertainment services like the Spectrum TV App. As customers expect more digital access, Spectrum will always be there to ensure consistent and reliable access is available — no matter the task.
MCN: You have the Spectrum app, Comcast has the Xfinity app, other distributors have their own app. What makes your app different? Or is it?
JR: High-quality streaming is our north star and our investment in performance is what sets us apart. The app works really well and that’s a testament to the way we operate the platform as well as the way we invest in innovation — continually raising the bar by bringing new features to the platform, while ensuring we do not risk the overall quality of performance.
MCN: Are more customers accessing service via the Spectrum app today than ever? Any estimates as to how many? How many do you think it will be in the next few years?
JR: The Spectrum TV App is definitely more popular than ever. As of the end of Q3, we’re seeing more than 11 million active customer devices accessing the service every month and are pleased to report that the Spectrum TV App is the most-viewed streaming app in the country on an hours-per household basis. The adoption of the platform has been accelerating and we expect that trend to continue.
MCN: It’s not just video that customers are accessing through the Spectrum app, but also customer service and account management. Is that the future? Are you gearing up for the day when most of your customer interaction is through apps? Is this making those operations more efficient?
JR: Yes, we are seeing operational efficiencies and satisfaction gains from customers who choose to engage digitally. Call centers and field technicians will always be central to how we serve our customers, but we are seeing a natural movement to digital engagement, including increased use of chat, the My Spectrum app and our website. All indications are this trend will continue to grow organically — and rapidly.
Charter’s approach is to serve our customers where they want, when they want, and how they want. Our customer service, field and network operations teams all work to provide options for our customers that make it easier for them to interact with us. Digital applications are a growing part of that strategy and investments in the My Spectrum app and Spectrum websites enable our customers to engage in new ways.
Our efforts in this space are part of a much bigger strategy to improve the customer experience. We have made network enhancements to reduce service disruptions, streamlined installation processes with most services now being self-installed, proactively communicated with customers through text and email to keep them aware of their services and account changes, and given customers the ability to track their techs in real-time for appointments.
We’re proud of the engagement and growth within our digital channels, but we are most proud of the way in which we have turned service into a personalized product for all customers.
MCN: Do you see a day soon when the Spectrum TV app replaces the need for a set-top at all? Is this going to take a few years as people switch out their home TV sets for smart TVs, or do you expect it to happen sooner?
JR: We continue to see a demand for the traditional video experience on a set-top box, especially as we add capabilities to the Spectrum TV experience like the introduction of streaming apps incorporated into that platform. We launched HBO Max and YouTube this year in addition to Netflix which has already been deployed to our traditional platform. That being said, traditional customers are relying more heavily on the Spectrum TV App within their house and while on the go using mobile devices. We like the fact that Spectrum customers get to choose which platform works best for their lifestyle.
JR: Don’t forget mobile! The Spectrum TV App has a loyal following of Android and iOS mobile customers watching the game or catching up on their favorite series while on the go. We also support Chromecast and AirPlay streaming from mobile to connected-TV devices.
To answer the question, though, we’re always working to get the Spectrum TV App on the platforms our customers find the most value in. We have an open dialogue with most streaming device manufacturers and look forward to supporting additional devices in the near future.
MCN: Is this where you see the business going? If consumers don’t have a smart TV, they probably have an Apple TV device or something similar. Is the day coming when Roku Channels or Amazon Channels will be the primary sales vehicle for video, or do you see this as primarily a complement?
JR: It’s too early to make that type of prediction. As content continues to fragment into a variety of services, the role of the aggregator remains a moving target. I’d argue that the streaming services available today have made it more complicated for the average video subscriber to understand where to find the content they want. Users spend a lot of time browsing and searching — it might even be more accurate to say customers have to research where to find their shows and what it will cost them to watch. From monthly streaming subscriptions to free ad-supported content and now ad-free tiers, live and on-demand content with different access rules and the persistent confusion of ‘which app is the game on tonight’ questions, it’s a jungle out there. Our goal for the Spectrum TV experience, both within the traditional set top box and via the Spectrum TV App, is to enable seamless, aggregated access to high-quality video content.
I think we’ve done a good job reducing the noise for customers so they can maximize their time enjoying their video subscription.
MCN: You did a Roku deal recently, after not being on that service for about 10 months. How important are outlets like Roku and Amazon to the overall mix?
JR: When it comes to our video products, we think enabling access through streaming devices is an important value-add to our growing customer segment. Enabling the Spectrum TV App on devices like Roku is something we will continue to do, so long as the technology requirements and platform agreement terms make sense for our business.
MCN: With every programmer having its own app, and many doing their own direct-to-consumer offerings, how close are we to the day where cable operators no longer offer traditional programming packages or authenticated streaming options, but just access to apps? Is that the next evolutionary step for the video space — broadcast begat cable which begat satellite which begat on demand which begat streaming, etc., etc. Is the ultimate goal to have cable apps like the Spectrum TV App be the vehicle where consumers can buy broadband service and packages of programming apps based on genres from the cable company, or even individually for a slight premium?
JR: It’s difficult to predict what is going to happen. One thing we all agree on is that there is more demand for high-quality video content than ever before. That demand is driving new consumption and behavior patterns for customers who want more control over their subscriptions, from the channels included in their packages to the way they sign up for service.
Charter is responding in the form of more flexible packaging including lower-priced video offerings like Choice, Stream and Essentials, all of which are available without a set-top box and through online digital purchase.
More broadly, though, I think we’ve got a long way to go before we’ve arrived at the ideal customer experience for purchasing and consuming streaming video. It seems clear that aggregation solutions and bundled pricing options will evolve, enabling more customer choice, forcing technology solutions that simplify the customer experience, and further increasing demand. ■
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Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.