Buckeye Broadband educates customers on shift to streaming, leans into high school sports

Minneapolis - Smaller and independent operators gathered this week in Minneapolis for The Independent Show, including Buckeye Broadband. Buckeye is a Toledo, Ohio-based service provider that’s taken a proactive approach to educate customers on the shift to streaming, while also leaning into regional high school sports.  

StreamTV Insider has reported previously on operators’ pivots on video in the face of rising programming costs and declining pay TV bases. Most providers instead focus on growing their connectivity services, such as broadband, alongside government subsidized fiber buildouts for some.

Still, that doesn’t mean everyone is throwing in the towel on video entirely. As NCTC EVP of Programming Judy Meyka told StreamTV Insider, it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach for the cooperative’s more than 700 members.

Take for example Buckeye Broadband, which provides service in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. Buckeye’s Adam Pancoast, director of digital marketing, explained how the cable operator is pursuing fiber deployments instead of its legacy coaxial cable. It still delivers cable TV services to existing customers for the time being until fiber turns on, but Buckeye now only markets a streaming TV - meaning no set-top box - video offer to new customers.  Pancoast said video had several years prior already shifted into the role of a complementary offering to Buckeye’s other services.

Buckeye still provides network channels, but through its TV Everywhere (TVE) app called StreamTV (no relation to this publication), that was launched around two years ago and integrates live linear, local channels and on-demand programs. It’s essentially the same lineup as Buckeye’s normal cable packages but offered via streaming. StreamTV is powered by TiVo and requires less equipment as users bring their own device, be it Apple TV, Fire TV stick or what have you.

New tactics to transition customers to streaming

While not always top of mind when it comes to streaming, Pancoast pointed out that cable operators have been in the streaming arena for several years through their own TVE apps, such as StreamTV.

“Cable companies in general, I think we know more about streaming than I feel like…a majority of other companies only because of the fact that we’ve had streaming products for years,” Pancoast said, speaking to TVE apps. And when customers have issues with streaming – even if it’s through third-party apps like Netflix or Hulu -  it’s usually their internet provider that fields the call.

However, that streaming knowledge doesn’t always translate to consumers, particularly those that might be older and not familiar with the technology.  

With its experience in streaming, Buckeye came up with the idea to put together a book for customers – sort of a primer or 101 guide on the streaming landscape. As a digital marketer, Pancoast at first was unsure but leaned into the book idea. The main purpose for the streaming guide is to establish Buckeye as a thought leader within its own marketplace, to educate customers that traditional marketing tactics weren’t working, and prepare for the sunset of Buckeye’s coax-delivered cable services as it deploys fiber. And it’s been happy with the results so far, Pancoast said.

The book, which has both physical copies and a digital e-book for free download, had two primary targets: One, adults in the 55-plus age demo who bundled Buckeye’s traditional cable service and who he said the company realized were very hard to transition into streaming.

This age demo, he noted, are used to the traditional set-top box, DVR, EPG experience and typically have been Buckeye customers for decades. Most normal marketing tactics, be it email or direct mail, weren’t necessarily working on these customers to prompt a switch to streaming, Pancoast said. Buckeye felt the apprehension mainly stemmed from a general lack of understanding around the streaming landscape and how to utilize the services – hence the need for a way to educate.

For the targeted demo, the operator printed books and mailed them directly, serving as a streaming guide customers could keep on their coffee table.

The second target: everyone else. For the remaining customers, Buckeye pursued digital tactics to encourage downloads of the MyBuckeye app and a free e-book version of the streaming guide.

Pancoast also described in-person workshops that Buckeye holds at retail stores. The operator invites its entire customer base, where technical staff called “brainiacs” provide an intro to help users navigate streaming and at the end provides them with a copy of the book. The workshops, where the demo skews slightly older and closer to 65-plus, are well attended, according to Pancoast (keeping in mind a full class may equate to 12 or so people).

Survey results from March show the effort has helped. Pancoast cited results finding 75% of respondents who received a copy said they actually read the book, and of those who did, felt their overall knowledge of streaming increasing by around 25%.

Improved retention, adoption

Notably, the operator’s seen recent improvements in its StreamTV product metrics.

“We saw increases in retention for our StreamTV product” year over year in Q2 2023, he said, as well as a small uptick in adoption over the same period compared to 2022.  He acknowledged the bumps weren’t huge, “but it’s a product that’s growing” –particularly notable in a pay TV industry that is no longer considered a growth business by many.

The streaming guide also helped educate in a push to prep for forced conversions to the StreamTV product as Buckeye deploys fiber.

“When you convert customers over from coax to fiber, that traditional way to watch television goes away because they can only stream at that point,” Pancoast noted. “So it was really important for us to educate the customers, especially the double play customers, and even the single play video customers that we have…when we do these conversions.”  

Buckeye just started the first transition in one section of its service area, which should be wrapping up near-term. As of now, Pancoast said the operator hasn’t really seen any attrition of those customers or RGU (revenue generating unit) loss.

While the company is fully focused on fiber, it still wants to offer video services because Buckeye sees opportunity with the product and bundles help make for a stickier offering.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be totally removed from the game,” he said of video, whether that means offering skinny bundles or teaming up with a third-party streaming content provider.

Some other telcos have turned to virtual MVPDs like YouTube TV to serve as their primary video offering.

A couple of years back Buckeye had talked with streaming services, such as the Hulu’s of the world, about traditional TV replacement options. However, Pancoast said streamers only offered a small, one-time referral fee for customers, so not reoccurring revenue.

“We haven't come across anything that's…a really good value for our company to really get behind in that sense. So we're kind of still sticking with our own,” he said, noting video still makes money, even if not nearly as much as what it did previously.

High school regional sports network

Buckeye Broadband is also leaning into local sports, having launched its own regional high-school network two decades ago and now has a second one in the pipeline.

Buckeye already has a network called BCSN (Buckeye Cable Sports Network). The high school regional sports network formed early in 2003 and now streams local high school sports, spanning football, basketball, soccer and others, with high-quality video feeds through its StreamTV product. The content is only available via Buckeye and is a value-add for being a customer. 

It’s a key network for high schools and families in operator’s service area, Pancoast noted, particularly for parents and grandparents that want to watch their children play.

That hyper-local content is also key to Buckeye, which is launching a new channel and app called NLL, Pancoast said.

The Northern Lakes League, or NLL, is a high school athletic conference with eleven teams in Northwest Ohio. Pancoast described NLL as a more specialized version of BCSN as it represents the largest high school division of schools that compete against one another – targeting another niche segment of viewers.

And hyper local sports don’t just represent a value add for Buckeye viewers, but sometimes the reason for customers keeping video at all.

“I think some people still have our service because of it,” he said of BCSN.