Frontier's TumTiki OTT play aims to woo a national audience, with a local touch

Frontier Communications (NYSE: FTR) on Monday rolled out an expanded over-the-top video play, the whimsically named TumTiki.

The Stamford, Conn.-based company says the new service has the largest library of premium national and local videos of any destination site, bringing together entertainment from Hulu and Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), as well as online clips and web originals from 5min and DailyMotion.

"It's an exciting launch for us," Melinda White, Frontier's EVP of revenue development told me. The site offers some 700,000 titles, 85 percent of which are free. "It's the largest video library of any single destination site."

Much of the content on the site is supplied by Hulu. Frontier has embedded the content aggregator on its own site, so customers aren't taken away to a third party. Frontier also has established a revenue sharing arrangement with Amazon.com for access to its video on demand library, again, keeping viewers on site.

And, while it currently counts those two as its only major partners, it's "having discussions" with other content partners and would be open to include Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) and other players as well--as long as they were willing to embed on TumTiki.

"This is a value to our customers, it's designed to bring attention to our site," said White. "When you click on a title on Hulu, for example, you stay on our site. That's a value to our advertisers; but it's also a value to partners like Hulu, because we still bring them more eyeballs."

Even with an eye on the national landscape, Frontier is maintaining a nearsighted outlook with TumTiki as well.

"We're producing some of our own content; with Game On!, we have high school football games, and we'll be expanding to other high school sports as well. We'll also carry local broadcast news and have a partnership with Grab Networks for more local content," said White. "This is just the beginning of content that we'll be including to 'Frontierize' the site, it's part of our philosophy. Throughout our territories, we're still a local company. That's part of our philosophy."

Frontier has built social media into the site to further grow a local feel.

"We are trying to foster the concept of inclusion," said White. "We want users to include friends in their interests and hobbies, to browse each other's collections of content and to share that on Facebook."

Frontier supplies service in 27 states and offers voice, high-speed Internet, satellite video, wireless Internet data access, data security solutions, bundled offerings, and specialized bundles for businesses.

And, it has totally embraced the idea that a service provider has to do more than simply supply a voice and Internet service. As White said, serving as an onramp to the Internet isn't a bad thing, especially if it helps you reduce customer churn.

"Absolutely," said White. "Top of mind is our own high-speed Internet customer base. And that's something we focused on as we began looking at partnerships and content plays, not only within our territory, but coast-to-coast as well."

Frontier has tripled its size in recent months, acquiring a chunk of Verizon's landline products a year ago in what has proven to be a transformational move for the company. It maintains its focus as primarily a rural service provider, but has no intention of letting the "rural" aspect translate to "basic."

"This project is a great indicator of the fact that we are thinking very progressively," White said. "We want our customers to have the same products and services that other major markets have in the U.S."

Frontier last week showed solid growth in its high-speed Internet customer base, even as it shed almost 10,000 of the FiOS customers it inherited from Verizon.

"The big message of our earnings call was that we're moving forward," White said. To a large extent, that means steadily growing its customer base. In the most recent quarter, Frontier said it had 556,600 video customers and more than three times as many high-speed Internet users, some 1.75 million.

That's a flashpoint for growth, and a focus for Frontier.

"Everybody wants to be the line in the house," White said. "And when you think beyond the network, you have to deliver value to the customer, apps, OTT video, services that everyone should have. We think OTT is an important component of that profile. We think it's an important place to be."

Will TumTiki be enough to "Frontierize" a national audience? It's looking at some stiff competition from any number of players, including YouTube, Hulu itself, Netflix and Amazon, just to name a few. But the company's model could well serve other Tier 2 and Tier 3 players worried about the cost of providing increasingly expensive video services. And it helps to keep that line in the customers' house. -Jim

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