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T-Mobile Set to Shutter TVision Just Six Months After Launch

Happy Daze: Former T-Mobile CEO John Legere, center, appears with current CEO and former COO Mike Siefert (r.) and Layer3 founder and CEO Jeff Binder, on the day the wireless company got the whole TVision ball rolling in December 2017 (Image credit: T-Mobile)

That was fast.

TVision, T-Mobile’s vaunted “uncarrier” reinvention of the pay TV business, is exiting the market, literally just six months after it launched

T-Mobile announced Monday that it will “wind down” TVision’s Vibe and Live tiers on April 29. As part of a newly announced broad-ranging deal with Google, the wireless company has tapped Google’s virtual MVPD, YouTube TV, as its official premium pay TV service. T-Mobile will also promotionally bundle another vMVPD, Philo.

Also read analyst Alan Wolk's take on the surprise shuttering: T-Mobile’s Surrender Is a Landmark Defeat for Traditional Pay TV

TVision Live and Vibe customers can get $10 a month off the $64.99-a-month YouTube TV and the $20-a-month Philo services for as long as they are T-Mobile customers. 

In addition, TVision Live customers will get a month free of YouTube TV, plus a month gratis of the $11.99-a-month YouTube Premium. Vibe customers get a free month of Philo. 

In a note to customers from T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert, the company conceded the announcement “may surprise some people.” (You think?)

But a lot has changed since early November, when T-Mobile began offering a virtual pay TV service built on a diversity of tiers and hardware options, some of them proprietary. The TVision service was ultimately intended to underpin T-Mobile’s fixed 5G offering. 

“Innovation seldom follows a straight line,” Sievert said. “Since launching the TVision initiative, we’ve learned a lot about the TV industry, about streaming products, and of course, about TV customers.”

For starters, T-Mobile learned that there’s a reason the linear pay TV companies it has mocked for so many years are weighed down so much by their programming contracts. T-Mobile launched trying to simultaneously market a super-skinny, $10-a-month entertainment-only, Philo-like “Vibe” tier, next to a more robust, more traditional looking trio of “Live” bundles. That revolutionary approach didn't end well. 

Almost immediately, programmers including Discovery pushed back, demanding that their networks not be confined to to just Vibe. 

T-Mobiile undoubtedly avoided lawsuits by adding 33 Vibe networks to its base Live bundle at no extra costs to customers. But it seemed to sink its economic model in the process. The writing on the wall was clear in February, when the company didn’t mention its TVision product even once during its second-quarter earnings call

The next shoe dropped in early March, when MobiTV, the provider of the video software on which TVision is based, announced its bankruptcy … and that its largest customer, T-Mobile, was giving it $15.5 million in bailout money. 

And then there’s the whole notion of fixed 5G being a legit competitor to cable. The fast-rising usage of wireline networks, post pandemic, has revealed that wireless companies might not have the network capacities to come through on this challenge to cable’s wireline market share. And if you want to bundle video to the limited number of fixed 5G customers you do obtain, there's no shame in bundling a third-party vMVPD vs. rolling out your own expensive proprietary TV service.

“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 said. 

For T-Mobile, Monday's announcement puts a coda on bold proclamations made back in December 2017, when the company first touted its entry into the pay TV business with the acquisition of concierge cable provider Layer3 TV for $325 million.