T-Mobile Sets Pay TV Rollout for First Half

Fifteen months after it purchased startup video company Layer3 TV and promised a new service that would profoundly disrupt the “arrogant” pay TV business and get rid of its many “pain points,” T-Mobile said it would launch the platform in the first half of this year.

T-Mobile executive vice president and chief operating officer Mike Sievert said during the No. 3 U.S. wireless operator’s fourth-quarter earnings call that a “predecessor product under the Layer3 TV brand” has already launched in four cities.

“We’re getting great learnings from customers, great feedback about features they’d like to see, and we decided to develop those features and some additional quality improvements before rebranding and rolling out a home product,” Sievert said.

The new platform, he added, would be bundled alongside a 4G LTE fixed wireless broadband product that’s also currently in development. But the broadband and pay TV products can be deployed independently of each other, Sievert said. (T-Mobile, which is still trying to get regulatory approval for its proposed merger with Sprint, has bigger plans to deploy a 5G network in 2020.)

So what will the very disruptive pay TV service look like? As for the home-based, Layer3-derived video platform, the details are still fuzzy. Separately, T-Mobile is developing a mobile video play, and that has a little more shape at this point.

The self-proclaimed “Uncarrier” has no plans to launch a skinny-bundled vMVPD. Rather, T-Mobile seems to be developing a business like Amazon Channels, which aggregates subscriptions to streaming services like HBO Now and CBS All Access.

Prior to the T-Mobile acquisition, Layer3 TV was largely focused on an in-home, full-freight pay TV service with 4K-capable boxes delivered over IP.

“We don’t have plans to develop an undifferentiated skinny bundle out there,” Sievert said. “There are plenty of those, but we think there’s a more nuanced role for us to play in helping you get access to the great media brands out there that you love, and to be able to put together your own media subscription in smaller pieces, $5, $6 $7, $8 at a time.”

“It’s subscription-palooza out there,” Sievert added. “Every single media brand either has or is developing an OTT solution, and most of these companies don’t have a way to bring these products to market. They’re learning about that. They don’t have distributed networks like us. They don’t have access to the phones like we have.”

As for the long delay in bringing the home-based pay TV service to market — it was supposed to debut last year — Sievert said, “We’re not date-driven when it comes to the home part of the strategy, we’re quality-driven.”

Daniel Frankel

Daniel Frankel is the managing editor of Next TV, an internet publishing vertical focused on the business of video streaming. A Los Angeles-based writer and editor who has covered the media and technology industries for more than two decades, Daniel has worked on staff for publications including E! Online, Electronic Media, Mediaweek, Variety, paidContent and GigaOm. You can start living a healthier life with greater wealth and prosperity by following Daniel on Twitter today!