The Flow forward

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Above: Kurleigh Prescod and Cindy-Ann Gatt outside the Flow box at the Oval. Photo by Mark Lyndersay

BitDepth#1209 for August 08, 2019

“Is Flow a new company? Yes, absolutely,” said Kurleigh Prescod, newly appointed Country Manager for the broadband company. Prescod points to new paternity leave options introduced by the company as examples of positive human resources reform.

Not everyone agrees with that evaluation though, and I’ve spoken to disappointed former employees who left a company they felt had been fundamentally changed by successive buyouts, first by Cable and Wireless and then by Liberty Global, a massive broadband and cable entertainment provider based in Europe.

Liberty has significant scale, operating multiple consumer brands, including Virgin Media, has invested widely in communications and content creation and delivers fibre networks connecting 21 million customers and 6.4 million mobile subscribers.

A couple of years ago, they picked up a scrappy little broadband provider in the Caribbean and wisely kept Flow, a brand it had nurtured for almost a decade.

“It’s a different company, and the new owner has their culture that they want to roll out to the business,” Prescod said.

Kurleigh Prescod is himself an old-stager in Flow’s operations, having worked with the company for close to a decade and a half, despite his chubby-cheeked, youthful looks.

“We were a smaller company, we only knew one way to do things,” he said.

“The multinational brings new performance management practices, new standards and systems. Let me give you an example, the standard for installation has been significantly upgraded.”

“Once we might have considered getting to a customer within the month acceptable. Then we got that down to the same week. Now it’s within a day.”

A few hours after I’d left the meeting with the communications team at the Queen’s Park Oval, I got a call from Flow customer support following up on my request for a modem upgrade (I’m a Flow customer) to test the new features they were bragging about during the meeting.

The technician showed up the next morning with the new white modem, a custom design for Liberty, admirably clueless about why the request might have been made.

It was replaced less than a day after I’d pointed out that the fancy 24-hour replay system they were so proud of didn’t seem to work at all on my older box.

Those modems, by the way, are likely to be key to everything that Flow has planned, now that the company finds itself situated firmly in a post-streaming world, one in which there is a growing backlash about the fracturing of streaming services which demand more fees to keep up with a flood of new shows.

Now it’s possible that brisk service was a ploy to impress me with their new delivery benchmarks, but nobody I spoke to seemed to have any clue what had triggered the service call and  proceeded to read their contact scripts with convincing boredom.

“Once we might have considered getting to a customer within the month acceptable. Then we got that down to the same week. Now it’s within a day.”

Kurleigh Prescod, Country Manager, Flow

Today’s arguments aren’t about what channels to watch, but which streaming services to subscribe to, a discussion that’s likely to grow fiercer locally once Disney, Hulu and Amazon figure out that there’s money to be made in the region and Netflix gets challengers that don’t require a VPN.

A generation is coming of age with no idea what to do with media that must be watched when it is scheduled to appear, and the company’s first response was first to allow users to watch broadcast material an hour into the past. Now with Flow, you can watch TV that’s 23 hours old.

But that doesn’t do anything for binge watchers, unless they have the stamina to plan a schedule of recordings in the company’s cloud servers of shows they might miss.

“We see OTT services as being very prevalent,” said Cindy-Ann Gatt, Marketing Director, “the Liberty group has learned to coexist with the OTTs that are functioning.”

Flow now boasts 100 per cent licensed content and believes that there remains a market for live broadcasting, particularly for sports.

“We will continue to innovate on the main products,” Gatt said.

“We look at Netflix [as a service] all the time and we are the leading provider of their platform in the Caribbean.”

“There are always negotiations with content providers on delivering in the region; discussions and those negotiations are ongoing.”