In Chasing AT&T, Verizon & T-Mobile Diverge in 5G Video Strategies

DENVER -- Verizon and T-Mobile are loudly pursuing the video opportunity in 5G, but they're currently looking at the market in very different ways.

Verizon's goal for 5G video is to form partnerships to bring new and interesting video content to its subscribers, explained Erin McPherson, head of the operator's content acquisition and programming. McPherson made her comments during a panel session here at the Pay TV Show earlier this week. She specifically pointed to Verizon's recent partnerships with the NFL, The New York Times and YouTube TV as examples of how Verizon might play in the market for 5G video. She also hinted that Verizon might make YouTube TV available to its mobile customers -- not just its fixed wireless customers -- in the second half of the year, but did not provide details.

Conversely, T-Mobile's Lindsay Gardner -- the operator's SVP and chief content officer -- said that "it's about the bundle, stupid." He said that customers want an aggregator to collect the best content for them: "Bundling under a trusted brand will just become even more important" in the future, he said.

Not surprisingly, those positions generally align with what Verizon and T-Mobile are doing in the video space today. Moreover, both operators have been working to refine their video strategies in recent years, following a number of stumbles.

Verizon, for its part, discontinued plans to offer its own streaming video service and is instead partnering with the likes of YouTube TV to offer video services to its customers. Concurrently, the company is teaming with other companies to create 5G video content and services, while also operating the video services it acquired through its purchases of AOL and Yahoo.

Meantime, T-Mobile is working to leverage its acquisition of Layer3 TV to create some kind of video offering that might eventually run over its 5G network. Indeed, at the same event last year, Layer3 founder Jeff Binder repeatedly promised a "disruptive" video service from T-Mobile by the end of 2018. But those plans have been delayed by potentially a year or more. Further, in the past few weeks, Binder has departed T-Mobile and the operator has launched a rebranded Layer3 service in a handful of cities that is strikingly similar to what cable companies already offer.

Both Verizon and T-Mobile are following in the shadow of AT&T, which has made massive investments in the video space through its purchases of DirecTV and Time Warner. AT&T executives have promised to leverage those purchases as their company rolls out its 5G network, but analysts remain unconvinced that AT&T has a discernible advantage in the 5G video space.

Verizon's McPherson and T-Mobile's Gardner were joined at the event by Alex Moulle-Berteaux, the chief operating officer of fixed wireless startup Starry. Moulle-Berteaux said that Starry's approach to the video space is to enable connections that support whatever video its customers want to access, be it Netflix or HBO Now. Rather than developing a specific video strategy, Moulle-Berteaux hinted that Starry is currently investigating how it might be able to offer speedy, low-latency services specifically tailored to online video gamers.

Finally, all the panelists agreed that, eventually, 5G may support new and innovative video services not available today. For example, Verizon's McPherson hinted at real-time sports betting services powered by 5G, while T-Mobile's Gardner said that 5G-powered autonomous vehicles would allow passengers to watch video while they commute.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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