TV and video are the newest battle fronts for cellular carriers trying to refresh their increasingly mature businesses.
With nearly every adult in the US having a mobile phone, carriers have engaged in frenetic price wars to poach each other’s customers. The need for new growth strategies has sent them searching for the next big thing to one-up the competition.
Video is poised to play a prominent role, but each carrier is approaching the market quite differently.
Early September featured notable video-based salvos.
T-Mobile announced an exclusive partnership with Netflix that lets it provide the over-the-top video service for free to customers on its wireless family plans.
AT&T responded by providing free HBO subscriptions to customers on its unlimited wireless plans, putting them on par with those on its premium wireless plans who have been receiving free HBO since April.
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The announcements highlight the carriers’ different tacks.
Without any video properties of its own, T-Mobile is relegated to paying for Netflix, which it then provides for free to lure new wireless subscribers and build customer loyalty.
Meanwhile, AT&T is stockpiling content rights so it can market a variety of wireless and video service combinations.
Having already bought satellite TV provider DirecTV for $48.5bn in July 2015, AT&T is adding to its content hoard via an $85bn purchase of Time Warner, which owns HBO, later this year.
Vast content rights enabled AT&T’s 2016 launch of DirecTV Now, its over-the-top and mobile live TV streaming service.
DIrecTV Now targets cord-cutters and cord-nevers, such as millennials who prefer services like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime and free broadcast TV to cable or satellite TV.
AT&T gives wireless customers on its unlimited data plans a $25 monthly credit on DIrecTV Now packages. It also does not apply time spent viewing the service to their wireless data caps.
Verizon, the nation’s largest mobile operator, is working on plans to launch a competing subscription-based streaming live-TV service that would leverage the advertising capabilities Verizon gained from buying AOL and Yahoo.
Verizon already has go90, an ad-supported streaming video service that is free for both Verizon and non-Verizon customers.
Though viewing go90 also does not count against Verizon customers’ wireless data limits, the service has struggled to gain traction since launching a year ago.
Because they do not possess video content rights, T-Mobile and Sprint each remain wild cards in the wireless-video bundle battles.
Partnerships with over-the-top providers can help them compete in the video arena.
However, the environment is ripe for either to merge with a large video provider such as a cable operator or Dish Network in order to gain access to more content.
Alternatively, they could opt to sit out future wireless-video battles.
The convergence of wireless with TV and video segments presents myriad possibilities. For now, the rules of engagement are still being written.