Cable Tech

Discovery CEO gives TVision some static

Discovery CEO David Zaslav has a bone to pick with TVision, T-Mobile's new pay-TV streaming service that starts at a mere $10 per month.

Speaking on today's Discovery earnings call, Zaslav expressed surprise to learn how TVision is packaging Discovery programming, holding that T-Mobile appears to be violating its distribution rights with the programmer.

"We don't believe they have a right to do what they're doing right now," he said.

At issue is TVision Vibe, a package starting out at $10 per month that's initially being offered to T-Mobile's postpaid mobile subscribers. That package features 30-plus, entertainment-focused channels and includes core Discovery networks, including its flagship channel, TLC, Food Network and HGTV along with DIY and Animal Planet. TVision's more expensive "Live" packages tack on sports and news content.

"We were very surprised with how T-Mobile decided that they were going to bundle our networks, particularly because we have a clear agreement where our networks are required to be carried on all their basic tiers, OTT offers," Zaslav said. "So, let's just characterize it this way: We're in active discussions with them to quickly resolve that issue. We don't believe they have a right to do what they're doing right now. And they know – it's very clear to them and they're focused on it."

T-Mobile, which launched the new TVision on November 1, has been asked for comment.

Update: TVision contends that it is complying with its carriage agreements.

"TVision is off to a great start! The Un-carrier has always been about listening to customers and solving their pain points, and that's what we’re doing with TVision," a T-Mobile spokesperson said in an emailed statement. "And clearly, the TV business has a lot of pain points to solve! We also want to be a great partner to media companies. We are of course complying with our content agreements, and we are absolutely open to evolving our services to make them even better for consumers. We are just getting started."

Update: Responding to question on T-Mobile's earnings call Thursday afternoon, CEO Mike Sievert reiterated a stance that TVision is "complying with all of our media contracts," and it's T-Mobile's intention to "be a great partner to media companies." But he added that T-Mobile is "open minded" about TVision's programming situation and could make changes to the content business, if necessary. "We're in it for the long haul," Sievert said.

Concerns also raised by Philo CEO

Zaslav's concerns echo those of Andrew McCollum, the CEO of Philo, an OTT-TV provider focused on entertainment that provides a baseline $20 per month package of 60-plus channels that shares some similarities with TVision Vibe. Discovery, by the way, is also one of Philo's investors.

McCollum said he was "mystified" about how T-Mobile pulled off its packages given how programming deals are usually crafted. "Credit to them, I suppose, for doing it," McCollum told Light Reading in a recent interview. "I don't think I'm speaking out of school to say that every major programmer that you go and do a deal with will seek to require that at least their core networks are carried in the base package to all subscribers."

Update: ViacomCBS, another Philo backer, has similar concerns about the way TVision is packaging its programming, The Streamable reported, citing sources said to be familiar with the matter. NBCUniversal has also notified T-Mobile that the current form of TVision's packaging is in violation of its carriage agreements and that the programmer and T-Mobile are exploring options on how to resolve the issue, a source close to NBCU said.

Discovery, meanwhile, is nearing the launch of its own direct-to-consumer streaming service, following the likes of other major programmers such as NBCUniversal (Peacock), Disney (Disney+), ViacomCBS (Paramount+, a successor to CBS All Access) and AT&T's WarnerMedia (HBO Max).

Zaslav hinted that Discovery might have more detail to share at an event to take place in early December.

Mike Dano, editorial director, 5G & mobile strategies at Light Reading, contributed to this report.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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