Wolk’s Week In Review: T-Mobile launches a vMVPD, Peacock has 22 million subs

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 Launches a vMVPD

T-Mobile announced the launch of a full-on virtual MVPD this week, or, more accurately, two vMVPDs.

One, TVision Live, is a more or less traditional vMVPD that ranges from $40-$60/month but does not include CBS stations, while the other, TVision Vibe, will cost just $10/month and feature around 30 stations, mostly from the ViacomCBS and Discovery families.

Why It Matters

This appears to be a 5G play. As in T-Mobile wants to sell you fixed 5G broadband for your home, and as part of that deal, they will also sell you pay TV service.

(Eventually, anyway. My sources keep telling me that it will be at least three years till 5G has any real national penetration, quite likely longer.)

This is a curious play as it does not seem as if there is much pent up demand for a vMVPD service as the existing ones are either shedding customers (AT&T TV Now) or growing at a somewhat measured pace (Hulu Live TV and YouTube TV.)

Perhaps T-Mobile is thinking that their 5G broadband plus TVision Live will be so well priced that they will be able to pick off customers from Comcast, Charter and other cable companies?

Or, more likely, they are misjudging the market. 

After years of rolling our eyes at all the false claims that there was a “massive wave” of cord cutting happening that was bringing about the “death of TV” we think that the massive wave is about to hit the TV industry starting next year.

That’s because right now, we’re at a point where viewers are going to start figuring out that they no longer need to pay close to $100/month for cable when there is more and better programming on streaming for a lot less money. (And that the networks who are creating the programming for cable are putting all their resources into making sure their best series wind up on their Flixes.)

The Vibe product is interesting in that it’s just $10/month, but even here, I expect that the launch of Discovery+ and Paramount+ will make Vibe extraneous. It also competes more or less directly with Philo, and, in many ways, with the various FASTs—the programming on the networks Vibe carries is going to mostly be reruns of reality and other non-fiction shows, and there’s plenty of that on the FASTs. For free, rather than $10/month.

Which means that Philo and Vibe will be fighting it out for that piece of the cord cutter audience that is dead set on watching the latest episodes of shows on The Food Network and BBC America.

(OTOH, it might have a good year-long run from people looking for a more familiar break from the Serious Important Programming on the Flixes. At just $10/month, it’s an easy enough “why not?” choice.)

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re T-Mobile, maybe come up with a plan B. I get that you wanted to do something with the Layer3 asset you bought almost three years ago, but a lot has changed since then and you’d probably be best off creating your own FAST, trying to buy one or striking a deal with some of the Flixes to help them sell subscriptions.

And while you’re at it, I also get why you’d want to sell your own Android box, but those things always wind up feeling like the store brand sneakers your mom made you get when you really wanted Nikes, and that just leads to bad feelings all around.

If you’re Philo, you were indeed there first and you do have an unlimited DVR. Just stand your ground and maybe see if you can get some sort of deal going with Verizon.

If you’re Hulu Live TV and YouTube TV, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over this. You’ve got CBS and a lot more channels for not a significantly greater amount of money. Plus you’ve had years to strike deals with all those local stations. 

2. Peacock Hits 22 Million Subs

Or close to 22 million anyway. Regardless, that’s a pretty impressive number for a brand new service, and a big jump from their September figure of 15 million, though that jump was admittedly made easier by the fact that Peacock is now available on Roku and by the fact that most viewers are likely signing up for the free version.

Why It Matters

Many observers have been noting that it is unclear how many of Peacock’s subscribers are paid, but my instinct is that very few of them are. 

That’s because when the service launched to non-Comcast subscribers in July, there was no evidence that paying was even an option. As in if I did not do this for a living, I would have had no idea there was a paid version—at no point during the sign up process was I ever alerted to the existence of a paid version.

A buddy of mine has the ad-supported subscription version of Peacock that he uses to watch UK soccer matches, but he was turned on to it via the Premier League app which lists each game and how to watch it, and thus directed him to paid Peacock. But users coming in through the front door, as it is, do not see that option.

Either way, NBCU deserves a whole lot of credit for making Peacock a success by understanding the need to pivot when things don’t go your way, rather than barreling ahead regardless like their friends at HBO Max.

Someone at NBCU looked around and thought “no Olympics, not many new shows, still don’t have ‘The Office’… no one is going to pay cash money for that.” Which is why they opted to push the free version of Peacock, taking care to collect the email address of anyone who wanted to subscribe, an email address that can then be used to better target advertising and, of course, to upsell the viewer in time for the 2021 Olympics.

What You Need To Do About It

If you’re Peacock, just keep on doing what you’re doing and make sure you have the goods before you try and move people to one of the subscription options. At some point too, you will need to figure out what you’re going to do about Xumo and where they fit into your ecosystem, given the popularity of free Peacock and the significant overlap between the two.  (As per above, you could always sell them to T-Mobile.)

If you’re HBO Max, you might want to try something similar when you roll out your ad-supported version. Without Roku and Amazon, you’re not in a good bargaining position right now and a free ad-supported version of the app might be just what you need to attract new subscribers.

If you’re Paramount+ and Discovery+, this is a good lesson to bear in mind as you get ready to go live. Hopefully things will be more normalized when you launch, but if not, don’t be afraid to pivot.