Who’s next? Apple, Amazon, CenturyLink may join streaming pay-TV fray

The Apple TV device was seen by many as a first step toward a streaming service from Apple.

Verizon and Comcast were each named this week as reportedly planning to enter the virtual MVPD sector, a market that seems to be gaining new entrants from all corners of the internet, media and telecom arenas. The news serves to raise the question: Who’s next?

Will Apple be the next major tech company to join the likes of AT&T’s DirecTV Now, Dish Network’s Sling TV, Sony’s PlayStation Vue, Google’s YouTube and Hulu in either offering or planning to launch a streaming linear TV service? Or will e-commerce giant Amazon beat Apple to the punch with a “live TV” component to its video offerings that stretch from its own Prime Video service to its extensive VOD rental catalogue to its Channels offering that aggregates other SVOD services?

Related: Verizon reportedly preparing internet-delivered TV service

Depending on who you ask, the next entrant to the market could be just about anyone.

“I think that CenturyLink is sniffing around that space as well,” said Brett Sappington, senior director of research for Parks Associates.

Indeed, CenturyLink in February said it is losing customers on its Prism IPTV product, and it plans to replace it with OTT service in the second quarter.

“Our [OTT] trial is getting really strong reviews right now … We have de-emphasized [Prism TV] and are moving more toward the over-the-top product and also focusing more on the broadband offerings we have versus the video.” said CenturyLink President and CEO Glen Post, speaking to investors on CenturyLink’s fourth-quarter earnings call.

Related: Comcast to roll out skinny ‘Stream’ service across footprint in Q3

But CenturyLink isn’t the only possible candidate.

“Would not surprise me for any mobile carrier to make an attempt,” Sappington added in comments to FierceOnlineVideo. “We are seeing that in certain European markets (Austria, in particular). Amazon would be an interesting entrant. If they offered an online pay-TV service, they could bundle some of their Amazon Channels with it, becoming even more of an OTT aggregator.”

Michael Inouye, a principal analyst with ABI Research, agree that a mobile operator like Sprint or T-Mobile could be the next entrant into the space.

“Others like T-Mobile and Sprint could follow AT&T and Verizon, although the former in particular has been pushing unlimited data plans for some time and already has a favorable arrangement with third party streaming companies, so T-Mobile might have less near term need for an in-house solution,” he reasoned.

But Inouye said Apple and Amazon are at the top of his list as companies that may next enter the market for linear streaming TV services.

“Apple for its hardware and services ecosystem and for the simple fact that the company has been rumored to be working on a service for perhaps longer than anyone (including the period when people kept asking about a real Apple TV). Apple often strives to launch products and services that feel relatively mature and complete and this is likely why we’ve waited so long for a dedicated Apple TV service,” he said. “The content (from content owners), however, is starting to flow far more freely over OTT channels, so it could very well only be a matter of time now before Apple formally announces such a service.”

Inouye said it's Amazon, however, that would be the “most interesting and possibly exciting” entrant to the sector.

“Sure, Amazon has worked with other premium partners and added live streaming content like Twitch, but the imagination could start to run a bit wild when it comes to traditional linear programming in Amazon’s ecosystem. Advertising for instance could take on a much higher degree of immediacy with ‘1-click’ ordering (remote or Alexa). In addition Amazon could gain a wealth of knowledge about a household’s viewing habits that are only partially gleaned from a SVOD and TVOD service. Content recommendations would become far more meaningful and timely and the integration of services (live linear, TVOD, SVOD, music, shopping, etc.) would go virtually unmatched. Amazon, as they have with their Prime service, could also bundle in the pricing in a way that few others could as well,” he said.