nScreenMedia OTT multiscreen media analysis

Mobile video key part of wireless operator battles in 2017

Q3 2016 wireless operator gains

Mobile video is very much in play in the wild world of mobile access in 2017. Wireless operators will grab any advantage mobile video can give them to help steal subscribers from their competitors. Will net neutrality get trampled in rush?

T-Mobile most aggressive with video

T-Mobile is by far the most aggressive operator when it comes to video. The company’s Binge On feature has been a major contributor to strong growth in 2016. T-Mobile added almost 1M subscribers in Q3 2016, far outpacing any of its rivals.

T-Mobile now has more than 100 OTT video providers signed up to participate in Binge On. Under the plan, which is free to customers and video providers, subscribers can watch all the video they want from participating content providers. However, the video quality a viewer receives is fixed at a maximum of 480p (standard definition.)*

The company is going one step further, by leveraging AT&T’s own DirecTV Now against it. AT&T wireless customers switching to T-Mobile will get one full year of DirecTV Now access free. The subscriber must sign-up for two lines of T-Mobile’s new $40-a-line ONE unlimited data plan. There will be a $35 a month credit applied each month for the first year.

AT&T Wireless set to bolster content position with Time Warner Inc.?

AT&T skinny bundle service DirecTV Now delivers 3 tiers of traditional television channels to its customers. The service is also exempt from counting against the AT&T wireless cap. This is a very big deal because a 1 Gbyte cap can be exhausted in a couple of hours of viewing. AT&T plans to attack the mobile market directly this year with DirecTV Mobile. This service will draw on premium content brands and deliver digital originals. Look for it to be bundled with wireless service for a promotional period, and require a subscription thereafter.

DirecTV Mobile, however, will not be a direct competitor to Verizon’s go90. That job will fall to another planned service, DirecTV Preview. AT&T says the service will be free-ad-supported and draw on content from many sources, including Otter Media, its joint venture with The Chernin Group. Otter Media could bring content from Reese Witherspoon (who recently announced a new multimedia venture Hello Sunshine with Otter Media), Fullscreen, and Crunchyroll.  Ellation Media, also owned by Otter Media, recently released a new video aggregation experience called VRV that brings together anime, animation, gaming, comedy, fantasy, horror and technology. Expect to see usage of VRV zero-rated for AT&T wireless customers soon.

If AT&T’s bid to buy Time Warner Inc closes, AT&T’s wireless customers should expect to see exclusive deals and content from Time Warner brands like HBO and Turner. That could also mean Turner service FilmStruck and other TV Everywhere services like the TBS app will be excepted from data caps.

Verizon Wireless relies on premium brands

Verizon Wireless has the exclusive right to stream live NFL games on mobile. Starting with the current season, Verizon Wireless prepaid customers can watch those games for free. Streaming them also does not count against the wireless data cap. Verizon’s exclusive deal with the NFL expires at the end of this season, but signs are it will be renewed. The New York post reports the NFL is committed to renewing the deal for $1B, and will throw in addition rights as an enticement.

Verizon has also launched a wireless service called go90 targeting younger viewers. Though the app is available to any mobile user, some content is reserved exclusively for Verizon Wireless customers. Look for Verizon to expand the exclusive content in 2017.

Video a bigger piece of the battle in 2017

Comcast has committed to enter the wireless market in the first half of 2017. It plans to sell wireless service to existing customers at a discount by combining Verizon wireless network access with its extensive network of WIFI access points. Given Comcast’s pedigree in video, and ownership of NBCU, the launch is guaranteed to carry with it some very attractive video options for customers. At a minimum, expect video streaming to be uncapped while on Comcast’s own WIFI network.

One of the casualties in this battle for subscribers will be net neutrality. Zero-rating of services owned by wireless operators gives those services a big advantage. With low data caps common in wireless data plans, consumers using non-zero-rated services could end up paying a huge penalty.

Why it matters

The market for wireless mobile service in the US will become even more competitive in 2017.

Video will be a key weapon in the battle to steal subscribers from each other.

Zero rating, a practice which likely violates the spirit of net neutrality, will get trampled in rush.

*watching on my 5 inch LeEco LePro 3 I find Binge On quality to be very good despite the 480p limit.

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