T-Mobile, one of the big three cellular operators in the US, has abruptly dropped its TV streaming bundle six months after launch and instead lined up with Google to promote YouTube TV, as well as stepping up promotion of the latter’s Android TV platform.
The move is a big endorsement of Android TV in the US where it has struggled to gain ground, while the alternative RDK platform has become entrenched among major cable TV operators and accounted for far more viewers there in total.
The decision by T-Mobile to scrap its own channels, Live, Live+ and Live Zone on April 29, having only entered the OTT TV arena with their launch in October 2020, will also send shockwaves around the world of mobile TV at a time the emerging next generation 5G technology is widely expected to make a huge impact on distribution and consumption of video services around the world. Other major cellular operators may reconsider plans to launch their own services rather than partner with an established ecosystem and content provider.
Indeed, T-Mobile’s partnership with Google goes beyond TV to embrace 5G and expand the operator’s capabilities there through adoption of Google’s Messages app as the default messaging system for Android devices. It is also promoting Google’s Android devices, including Pixel phones.
Hiroshi Lockheimer, SVP of Platforms and Ecosystems at Google, was naturally upbeat. “This is a win for Android users and an even greater win for the Android ecosystem. T-Mobile and Google have been working together to champion Android since the very beginning with the launch of the T-Mobile G1 in 2008,” said Lockheimer. “We’re taking what has already been a long and very successful relationship, and building on it to bring Android customers even more features and services.”
T-Mobile for its part acknowledged that the move might shock some in the mobile and TV industries as it appeared to represent a sharp U-turn. The operator’s CEO Mike Sievert admitted in a blog post to accompany the announcement that “this shift may surprise some” while contending that “innovation seldom follows a straight line” and insisting that the operator has “learned a lot about the TV industry and streaming products.”
What the operator has probably learned is that even with significant resources it is futile to compete with the major platforms to become the place its smartphone users go for their video content. T-Mobile will have been aware that Google has been beefing up its own aggregation potential with moves to develop a streaming video portal for its Chrome web browser called Kaleidoscope. This would allow users to access streaming video from different sites and services within the browser.
The speed of T-Mobile’s volte-face was also driven by financial problems afflicting its TV supplier, MobiTV, which recently filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy. "With our TV software provider encountering some financial challenges and with our broader, strategic partnerships with Google and Philo, we saw an opportunity to deliver unique value to our customers and strengthen the TVision initiative with the best partners," Sievert wrote in his blog. "This industry is incredibly fragmented, with new streaming services launching all the time, and we've concluded that we can add even more value to consumers' TV choices by partnering with the best services out there, negotiating incredible streaming media deals for T-Mobile customers, and helping our customers navigate the increasingly complex streaming world."
TVision is T-Mobile’s brand for TV services and is the one aspect of its offering that will be retained, even if it is now just a banner for YouTube TV, or alternatively the cheaper Philo service owned by various companies, including A&E, AMC Networks, Discovery and ViacomCBS. T-Mobile is offering Philo at $10 per month and YouTube TV for $55 per month.
Meanwhile, some other mobile operators have been pursuing aggregation in their bids to derive greater revenues from their emerging 5G services. Israel’s leading mobile operator Cellcom in September 2020 selected New York based OTT platform and technology company Kaltura to manage its migration to Amazon Web Services (AWS) and expedite its aggregation strategy. Cellcom TV now offers a curated mix of VOD, linear channels and catch-up content, alongside access to Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Spotify from multiple devices. The aim now is to harness Kaltura’s Targeted TV package to increase user engagement around aggregated content.
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