Wolk’s Week In Review: T-Mobile forgets to say 'May I?', Comcast wants Walmart to build them an X1 TV

TV[R]EV Week In Review

Well-known industry analyst Alan Wolk is publishing his popular Week In Review columns first on FierceVideo every Friday. This means that FierceVideo readers are the first to get all Wolk's insights as they navigate the fast-moving television business.

Wolk's Week In Review

1. T-Mobile Forgets To Say “May I?”

So last week we looked at how T-Mobile was introducing two new streaming products: a vMVPD called TVision Live and a $10/month Philo-like product called TVision Vibe. 

Only they seem to have forgotten one important thing--asking the networks whose programming they were using if it was okay.

Why It Matters

The first inkling that something was amiss came during the Discovery earnings call when CEO Dave Zaslav noted that they were “very surprised” by their inclusion in Vibe given that they had never actually, you know, agreed to let their programming appear on the budget-priced Vibe platform.

Then VCBS, which does not have a deal with T-Mobile for CBS on either Live or Vibe was all “WTF T-Mobile!!!” too, given that a number of their networks were included in the Vibe package, seemingly to their surprise as well.

Not to be outdone, the folks at NBCU were also surprised to learn that Telemundo was not included in Vibe, given that they had surmised that was part of the agreement they’d signed with T-Mobile

It’s unclear what T-Mobile was thinking--that everyone would be too caught up in the elections to notice? That “take first, ask permission later” was just how the TV industry conducted business?

No idea, but clearly they will be rethinking the make-up for all their newly announced products.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Philo, dance around the maypole, do some shots, trade some socially distanced high-fives, because you just dodged a major bullet. Yes, there are differences between Philo and Vibe (and I received an email outlining them within hours of the TVision announcement) but basically they were stealing your thunder for a whole lot less money and they just got blown out of the water. And that does not happen very often, so cheers!

If you’re T-Mobile, time to chop some heads. Find out what they were thinking and why they thought they could get away with it. That’s not just a mistake, that’s an institutional error and you need to fix it pronto. 

If you’re someone else and you’re thinking of starting up a vMVPD, think again. There are enough of them already and they’re not really growing very rapidly. FASTs are where it’s at. Niche FASTs. [Read all about them in our Special Report here.]

2.  Comcast Wants Walmart To Build Them An X1 TV

Comcast has been trying to make their X1 operating system happen. They’ve leased it to Rogers and Cox, but they no doubt look at the Amazon interface and think “ours is so much better looking!”  

And they look at how much money Roku and Amazon are making from licensing their operating systems to TV OEMs and they’re thinking “we should get in on that.”

So they’ve approached perpetual outsider Walmart to try and see if Walmart wants to build an X1 powered TV off its ONN brand.

Why It Matters

One more operating system makes life really difficult for everyone.

If the system takes off (more on that in a minute) every Flix and FAST will need to roll out an X1 version of their app and update it every time Comcast tweaks the operating system.

Advertisers would have yet one more walled garden to deal with, one more data set to try and integrate into their plans in order to determine who saw what and when and how often.

Peacock, OTOH, could get wider distribution, though how much more depends on how many people buy the X1-powered TV.

Which brings up my hesitation with this move: I’m just not sure a significant number of people will head to Walmart to buy a TV set powered by an operating system from Comcast. You’ve got a whole lot of things to overcome in order for that to happen: Walmart (not known for quality electronics, or well, quality anything, TBH), Comcast, which is still just a regional cable company, and the fact that people are generally quite happy with the big three smart TV OEMs--Samsung, VIZIO and LG--and with Roku and Amazon, and to the extent that they want a new TV set, they’re going to want one that’s optimized for streaming, not cable.

There would have to be incredible buzz from the tech press about how great the new TV is to generate any kind of real interest beyond just people who happened to wander into Walmart that day and thought the price was right, though given the low price of TV sets these days, there’s not much wiggle room there.

Which makes it really risky for Comcast and Walmart to try and get into an already very crowded market, one where people aren’t replacing their existing TV sets with any real frequency.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Walmart, there’s not much downside--you get good press because Comcast is a higher quality brand than you are, and lots of people who never knew you made your own in-house TV sets will become aware of that fact. That, and you can angle to get some data from those TV sets to help with your in-store targeting and sales attribution.

If you’re Comcast, don’t spend too much money on this. If it’s an easy thing to do, then go for it--it’s good press for X1 and Peacock. Just be careful of pissing off Roku, Google and Amazon because right now you need them more than they need you. And I’m guessing you can use Freewheel to handle ad sales for the new system, which means that part of the equation, potentially a real hassle, becomes much less of one.

If you’re Roku and Amazon, nothing much to worry about--if it does happen, the audience for this is going to be people who are still looking for a way to watch cable, not streaming, and, as noted, unless there’s something really special about the sets, they’re probably not going to sell a significant number of them. 

If you’re Samsung, VIZIO and LG, same advice here too--this is unlikely to eat into your margins or provide any meaningful competition, especially if it’s limited to Walmart stores.

If you’re a Flix or a FAST, no need to rush out and build an app for the new sets. Unless of course, you need to stay on Comcast’s good side.