Why a focus on speed is holding broadband back

Faster access to websites is not enough to encourage consumers to make the switch to broadband. Only tailor-made content can do that, says Simon Wells

Broadband has been heralded as the saviour of media communications. But many of us, from consumers to marketers, to analysts and those working in media, are tired of hearing the empty promises about the high rate of take-up that will soon transpire, and have grown suspicious of the mythical arrival of “Broadband Britain”.

Yet recent figures from communications regulator Ofcom are encouraging. There are now 2 million broadband subscribers in the UK and up to 35,000 new connections are being made every week. This is being helped by the fact that broadband services in the UK are cheaper than they are in Germany, France and even the US.

But there still seems to be a lack – or certainly the perception of a lack – of decent online content geared specifically for broadband users.

Why should we expect consumers to stump up the extra cash for a high-speed internet connection when all they are getting is the same dull content they could get through their narrow-band modem, only faster?

Yes, a faster connection equals a better experience of existing content (BT says that 87 per cent of users who have experienced broadband would not go back to narrow-band even if it was free), but consumers need a stronger incentive to invest in broadband. It may only cost about &£27 per month – roughly &£12 more than a standard non-metered connection – but broadband is still perceived as an expensive option. Without extra content or services to justify that extra amount, it is understandable that people are reluctant to sign up.

There are consumer sites that already use broadband to its best effect, enhancing users’ experience of both the internet and the brand concerned. But far too many brands and digital media companies seem to think that broadband means adding some video files in pop-up windows to an existing site, and hoping that users have enough bandwidth to cope with it.

This is entirely the wrong way to approach broadband – it is a new medium, and should be treated as such.

With video at their core, broadband sites should only be available to users with a broadband connection. Broadband sites should offer a great experience or no experience. Crucially, the videos need to be short, specific, and easy to find, because users won’t be prepared to wade through hours of information. Above all, content has to be fun. No matter how educational or informative, it still has to surprise and delight.

So let’s all of us – agencies, brand owners, digital media developers – take the initiative and start providing more of the content and services that consumers want.

There is already a substantial market to serve, and it is just going to get bigger.

Simon Wells is head of commercial development at Enteraction TV

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