NEW YORK — Liberty Media chairman John Malone has offered a glimpse into his vision for the future, and it’s wireless.
Malone has always been a fan of untethered communications — Liberty has invested in a handful of wireless ventures over the years — and Liberty Global, his European cable operation, is aggressively pursuing wireless pacts with a host of carriers for a quadruple play offering of voice, video, high-speed data and wireless on that continent.
U.S. cable operators have found the quad play to be elusive, but wireless is high on the media agenda. AT&T, which recently bought DirecTV, is aggressively discounting a wireless service to go along with its satellite-TV, phone and Internet services. Comcast has invoked a Mobile Virtual Network Operator agreement with Verizon Communications that could one day lead to a WiFi-first wireless product, and Dish Network has been accumulating spectrum by the bucketful over the past five years and may participate in upcoming wireless auctions.
“I believe the quad play is going to be enormously important so you can satisfy customers in their desire to have everything, everywhere in high-quality, including on mobile devices,” Malone said at Liberty Media’s investor day last week. “This is inevitably going to be part of the service bundle.”
Malone said he believes operators should take a more conservative approach to mobile than they have in past wireless endeavors, participating mainly via MVNOs.
“Feel your way into it,” Malone said. “Don’t look at it as a profit opportunity up front; look at it as a learning experience.”
Malone also said one of his biggest regrets was not making a play for Netflix about three years ago, when Liberty identified it as grossly undervalued.
Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said it held off on a Netflix buy because it owned Starz and feared a Netflix buy would jeopardize the premium channel’s negotiations with cable operators.
“The cable guys hated Netflix and they would have whipped us at Starz, so we figured rather than throw Starz under the bus, we held off on buying Netflix,” Maffei said.
Netflix stock was in the $7-to-$12- per-share range in 2012. The stock closed at $108.92 on Nov. 12.
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