Winter is coming for HBO NOW subscriber growth

Fan reaction to Game of Thrones‘ final season may be mixed, but the show has been undeniably good for HBO’s network — and for its over-the-top streaming service, HBO NOW. The Season 8 premiere drew in 11.8 million live viewers and 17.4 million viewers across all platforms on the day of airing, as well as a record number of sign-ups to HBO NOW, which in March was reported to have 8 million subscribers. But the show’s finale airs this Sunday, and HBO is set to see a huge exodus of streaming subscribers, as result.

According to new research from Mintel released this week, HBO NOW users are twice as likely as those from any other streaming service to cancel their subscription when a specific show ends.

The only service that performed worse on this front was YouTube Premium. And that’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, given that its subscriber base also includes YouTube viewers who want to go ad-free —  not just those who are there for its original content.

The new findings are telling in terms of how heavily HBO has been relying on Game of Thrones to grow its streaming platform over the years. In addition, the metrics indicate potential struggles ahead for HBO parent company WarnerMedia’s forthcoming streaming service. Due to launch into beta later this year, the service will be led by HBO content. But without new episodes of Game of Thrones, it will have to rely on other popular shows, like Westworld, to pull in viewers.

However, even though Westworld is HBO’s second most-watched show, Game of Thrones has triple the number of viewers.  

The network is clearly aware of the negative impacts to its streaming platform the end of Thrones will bring. It already greenlit plans for a Game of Thrones prequel, which is now filming. And it has other spinoffs in the works, too.

The prequel may not attract the same fervor as the original, but it could help bring viewers back. In the meantime, however, HBO NOW is set to see a significant number of subscribers cancelling after Sunday night.

Mintel also found that HBO NOW doesn’t have any significant traction beyond consumers who already subscribe to four or more over-the-top streaming services. These users pay for Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Hulu, then threw HBO into the mix in order to gain access to Game of Thrones. They’re not necessarily loyal to the network itself or interested in its other programming. And at $14.99 per month, HBO NOW is a fairly expensive addition.

With new steaming services from Apple and Disney poised to launch in the months ahead, a number of consumers will likely shift their HBO NOW dollars over to the newcomers instead, or simply pocket their savings.

The researchers also believe that smaller, lesser known streaming services could benefit by positioning their offerings as a more affordable alternative to HBO NOW.

This is especially true because the study found that consumers’ ideal price point for a “perfect” streaming package — one that had everything they want to watch — would be around $20 per month. Today, that number affords them to purchase maybe two or, at the most, three services. A fourth service, like HBO NOW, has been more of a luxury expense — a must-have while Game of Thrones aired, perhaps, but not one consumers will feel comfortable paying for when the show ends.

The new report stops short of making a firm prediction on the number of cancellations HBO NOW will soon see, though.

“I’m hesitant to put a direct number on subscriptions or cancellations,” says Mintel analyst analyst Buddy Lo. “We know from the research that nearly 20 percent of HBO NOW consumers say they would cancel service over a specific program, but we didn’t definitively ask if it was specifically Game of Thrones that they will cancel over,” he tells TechCrunch.

Of course, it’s hard to imagine what other program HBO NOW subscribers would have had in mind when responding.

Mintel isn’t the only firm to dive into the potential impacts to HBO NOW subscriber growth resulting from the end of its flagship series. Last month, Second Measure pointed to historical trends that help to forecast the big subscriber drop ahead.

For example, HBO NOW subscribers jumped by 91 percent in the U.S. during Season 7’s airing, but steadily declined over the six months after it ended. Only 26 percent of HBO NOW subscribers who made their first payment during Game of Thrones season 7 were still subscribers six months later, the report said.

It also found that HBO NOW subscribers were far less loyal than those on other streaming services including, in order, Netflix, Hulu, and even CBS All Access — the latter thanks to the Star Trek: Discovery fan base.

And neither HBO NOW nor CBS All Access came anywhere close to the retention numbers for Netflix and Hulu, which have 6-month retention figures of 74 percent and 60 percent, respectively.

Second Measure also found Netflix and Hulu had far more exclusivity than rivals — meaning, a larger share of subscribers who only paid for their service and no others.

For Netflix, this figure was 78 percent. HBO NOW, by comparison, only had a 27 percent share of subscribers who were exclusive to its platform.

The firm predicts loyalty to a single service will continue to decline in the years ahead as consumer demand for streaming content grows.

The increased competition will make it even harder for HBO to fare well on its own. That’s why it makes sense WarnerMedia is tapping into its other properties to instead create an HBO-led “bundle” that feels more compelling than HBO alone.

CBS says streaming services & Super Bowl helped it achieve record revenues in Q1

CBS credited its direct-to-consumer streaming services in helping it achieve double-digit revenue growth and  record quarterly revenues in Q1, along with the gains that came from hosting Super Bowl LIII and those from affiliate revenue. The network said its over-the-top service for cord cutters, CBS All Access, combined with Showtime’s direct-consumer subscriptions grew 71 percent year-over-year — its biggest quarter of growth ever.

Both services are continuing to grow in Q2, as well, thanks to The Twilight Zone on CBS All Access and Billions on Showtime, the company noted.

In addition, CBS is benefitting from other streamers’ needs for content. It spoke of gains from increasing sales of its content to providers like Amazon, Apple, and Netflix, for example. The latter has just debuted Dead to Me from CBS Television Studios, on its service. And CBS is producing Diary of a Female President for the Disney+ streaming service, which begins filming this summer.

The market’s appetite for over-the-top streaming TV services has helped CBS succeed in the cord cutting era, thanks to its investment in streaming platforms and original content for subscribers, like The Twilight Zone, The Good Fight, Star Trek: Discovery, and other shows.

However, the Super Bowl played a huge role in boosting subscriptions this quarter — the company even noted that CBS All Access had its “biggest quarter of [subscriber] growth ever.”

But CBS may be able to retain subscribers who joined for the Big Game with its other original programming, like The Twilight Zone which was the most-watched original premier, for instance.

It also touted upcoming new originals, including a dark comedy starring Lucy Liu called Why Women Kill from Desperate Housewives’ creator Mark Cherry; a true crime drama called Interrogation; and a brand-new Star Trek series starring Patrick Stewart.

CBS said it’s now working to take CBS All Access to more international customers. Having already launched in Canada and Australia, it’s coming next to Latin America and Western Europe.

In February, CBS said it had reached its goal of 8 million streaming subscribers two years early — a figure which included Showtime’s direct-to-consumer subscribers, as well. It said it was aiming to reach 25 million domestic subscribers by 2022, up from its early plan to reach 16 million by that time.

Earlier this week, Hulu announced it had topped 28 million customers, for comparison’s sake.

CBS didn’t update those numbers, but said the company still feels “very good” about achieving them.

What CBS can’t project, though, is how its growth may be impacted by the arrival of the other new streaming services coming to market in the months ahead, including Apple TV+, Disney+, the WarnerMedia streaming service, and perhaps even Jeffrey Katzenberg’s mobile streaming service Quibi. As all will rely on subscriptions, consumers may end up having to pick-and-choose which ones to pay for — as few can afford to subscribe to all.

It did say that it believes Apple TV+ will help it to grow, however, because it will help distribute CBS content to more customers, and boost its own subscriptions as a result.

“Given our company’s strong programming pipeline and our early-mover advantage in direct-to-consumer, we feel very confident about CBS’ leadership position in a media landscape that values must-have content above all else,” noted Joe Ianniello, CBS President and Acting CEO, in a statement. 

CBS reported earnings of $1.37 per share in Q1 on $4.2 billion in revenue. It was projected to earn $1.36 per share on $4.3 billion.

MLB to exclusively stream 13 live games to YouTube & YouTube TV

YouTube today announced a new partnership with the MLB which will allow the site to exclusively live stream 13 MLB games to both YouTube and YouTube TV during the second half of the regular baseball season. While YouTube TV had previously partnered with MLB — it’s currently serving as the presenting partner for the World Series, for example — this is YouTube’s first-ever exclusive live game partnership with the league.

The company says the schedule of the games and dates will be announced in a few weeks’ time, but will include 13 games that will be exclusively available to viewers in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico for free on the MLB YouTube channel, and on a dedicated channel that will come to YouTube TV.

The games will also include a pre-game and post-game show, and will contain MLB and YouTube-themed content from popular YouTube creators, who have yet to be announced. The games will be produced and enhanced for the YouTube platform by the MLB Network’s production team.

Deal terms were not disclosed.

“It’s incredible to team up with Major League Baseball for this first-of-its-kind deal together to provide both diehard baseball fans and our YouTube community with live games exclusively on YouTube and YouTube TV,” said Timothy Katz, YouTube’s Head of Sports and News Partnerships, in a statement. “With Major League Baseball’s expanding international fanbase, we are confident YouTube’s global audience will bring fans around the world together in one place to watch the games and teams they love.”

In addition to YouTube TV’s presenting sponsorship of the World Series (2017-2019), the two organizations have a history of working together. MLB has been live streaming games since 2002 on MLB.tv, and started its YouTube channel back in 2005. Today, MLB content and that from its 30 Clubs are available on YouTube including all old games since 2009. The YouTube audience generated 1.25 billion YouTube channel views in 2018 — up 25 percent over the year prior — the organization said.

YouTube TV also added the MLB Network to its channel lineup, and created baseball-themed content as part of its marketing campaign promoting the live TV streaming service.

“YouTube is an enormously popular video platform with impressive global reach and has served as a great environment for baseball fans to consume the game they love,” said Chris Tully, MLB Executive Vice President, Global Media, in the announcement. “We are excited to expand our partnership with YouTube to provide fans with an exclusive, customized live game viewing experience. With the media consumption habits of our fans continuing to evolve, MLB is committed both to expanding our roster of national broadcast platforms and to presenting live games in new ways to our fans,” Tully added.

MLB’s deal with YouTube comes on the heels of last month’s news that Facebook was significantly trimming the number of MLB games it would stream to just six non-exclusive games, down from the 25 exclusive games it streamed on Facebook Watch in 2018. Twitter, meanwhile, announced a deal with MLB last month that focused on more interaction between fans and the league on its social network.

For example, fans can vote for which players’ at-bats they want to watch live on Twitter every day, and the @MLB account will broadcast live shows around key events — like the London Series, Home Run Derby, All-Star Game from Cleveland, trade deadline, and the Postseason — as well as near real-time game video highlights.

The games’ arrival to a forthcoming channel on YouTube TV could entice more of the streaming service subscribers to upgrade to the full MLB Network add-on, which was made available last year alongside the news of the World Series sponsorship. YouTube TV doesn’t disclose subscriber numbers, but a March report from Bloomberg claims it has grown quickly and has now topped 1 million.

Samsung made a vertical TV for watching smartphone videos

So it’s come to this. After years of letter boxes and angry commenters, the electronics world is finally giving in and developing hardware designed to view vertical videos. Time to pack it in, the portrait mode shooters have won, and their prize is this ridiculous 43 inch TV from Samsung.

The Sero joins a handful of other strange new takes on the flat panel TV, but none speak to the current state of things more than this swiveling set. The design calls to mind Facebook’s high end portal, with a screen that does double duty. There’s landscape for standard viewing and portrait for, you guessed it, social media.

It’s a system targeted primarily at millennials, according to the company’s press material — specifically millennials with a money to burn, with a price north of $16,000. Seems like a lot to ask, but what do I know? I’ve been holding my phone sideways the whole time.

The quantum-dot QLED set features 4.1 channel audio, 60 watt speakers and your friend and mine, Bixby. It’s due out in Korea next month, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for a release here in the States.

3 fixes for Netflix’s “What to watch?” problem

Wasting time every night debating with yourself or your partner about what to watch on Netflix is a drag. It burns people’s time and good will, robs great creators of attention, and leaves Netflix vulnerable to competitors who can solve discovery. Netflix itself says the average user spends 18 minutes per day deciding.

To date, Netflix’s solution has been its state-of-the-art artificial intelligence that offers personalized recommendations. But that algorithm is ignorant of how we’re feeling in the moment, what we’ve already seen elsewhere, and if we’re factoring in what someone else with us wants to watch too.

Netflix is considering a Shuffle button. [Image Credit: AndroidPolice]

This week Netflix introduced one basic new approach to discovery: a shuffle button. Click on a show you like such as The Office, and it will queue up a random episode. But that only works if you already know what you want to watch, it’s not a movie, and it’s not a linear series you have to watch in order.

Here are three much more exciting, applicable, and lucrative ways for Netflix (or Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, or any of the major streaming services) to get us to stop browsing and start chilling:

Netflix Channels

For the history of broadcast television, people surfed their way to what to watch. They turned on the tube, flipped through a few favorite channels, and jumped in even if a show or movie had already started. They didn’t have to decide between infinite options, and they didn’t have to commit to starting from the beginning. We all have that guilty pleasure we’ll watch until the end whenever we stumble upon it.

Netflix could harness that laziness and repurpose the concept of channels so you could surf its on-demand catalog the same way. Imagine if Netflix created channels dedicated to cartoons, action, comedy, or history. It could curate non-stop streams of cherry-picked content, mixing classic episodes and films, new releases related to current events, thematically relevant seasonal video, and Netflix’s own Original titles it wants to promote.

For example, the comedy channel could run modern classic films like 40-Year Old Virgin and Van Wilder during the day, top episodes of Arrested Development and Parks And Recreation in the afternoon, a featured recent release film like The Lobster in primetime, and then off-kilter cult hits like Monty Python or its own show Big Mouth in the late night slots. Users who finish one video could get turned on to the next, and those who might not start a personal favorite film from the beginning might happily jump in at the climax.

Short-Film Bundles

There’s a rapidly expanding demographic of post-couple pre-children people desperately seeking after-work entertainment. They’re too old or settled to go out every night, but aren’t so busy with kids that they lack downtime.

But one big shortcoming of Netflix is that it can be tough to get a satisfying dose of entertainment in a limited amount of time before you have to go to bed. A 30-minute TV show is too short. A lot of TV nowadays is serialized so it’s incomprehensible or too cliffhanger-y to watch a single episode, but sometimes you can’t stay up to binge. And movies are too long so you end up exhausted if you manage to finish in one sitting.

Netflix could fill this gap by bundling three or so short films together into thematic collections that are approximately 45 minutes to an hour in total.

Netflix could commission Originals and mix them with the plethora of untapped existing shorts that have never had a mainstream distribution channel. They’re often too long or prestigious to live on the web, but too short for TV, and it’s annoying to have to go hunting for a new one every 15 minutes. The whole point here is to reduce browsing. Netflix could create collections related to different seasons, holidays, or world news moments, and rebundle the separate shorts on the fly to fit viewership trends or try different curational angles.

Often artful and conclusive, they’d provide a sense of culture and closure that a TV episode doesn’t. If you get sleepy you could save the last short, and there’s a feeling of low commitment since you could skip any short that doesn’t grab you.

The Nightly Water Cooler Pick

One thing we’ve lost with the rise of on-demand video are some of those zeitgeist moments where everyone watches the same thing the same night and can then talk about it together the next day. We still get that with live sports, the occasional tent pole premier like Game Of Thrones, or when a series drops for binge-watching like Stranger Things. But Netflix has the ubiquity to manufacture those moments that stimulate conversation and a sense of unity.

Netflix could choose one piece of programming per night per region, perhaps a movie, short arc of TV episodes, or one of the short film bundles I suggested above and stick it prominently on the home page. This Netflix Zeitgeist choice would help override people’s picky preferences that get them stuck browsing by applying peer pressure like, “well, this is what everyone else will be watching.”

Netflix’s curators could pick content matched with an upcoming holiday like a Passover TV episode, show a film that’s reboot is about to debut like Dune or Clueless, pick a classic from an actor that’s just passed away like Luke Perry in the original Buffy movie, or show something tied to a big event like Netflix is currently doing with Beyonce’s Coachella concert film. Netflix could even let brands and or content studios pay to have their content promoted in the Zeitgeist slot.

As streaming service competition heats up and all the apps battle for the best back catalog, it’s not just exclusives but curation and discovery that will set them apart. These ideas could make Netflix the streaming app where you can just turn it on to find something great, be exposed to gorgeous shorts you’d have never known about, or get to participate in a shared societal experience. Entertainment shouldn’t have to be a chore.

Wattpad partners with Sony Pictures Television in first-look deal for original programming

Wattpad, the online storytelling community whose authors’ works have been turned into Netflix movies, TV shows for Hulu and projects for other studios both in the U.S. and worldwide, announced today a new partnership with Sony Pictures Television. The deal gives Sony a first-look option for up-and-coming Wattpad stories — in other words, a way to snag the next big teen hit that already has a built-in fan base.

Wattpad says it will work with Sony to help it to identify the popular stories on its platform from the half a billion story uploads it has seen to date. The company uses its “Story DNA” machine learning technology alongside human curation to quickly identify the most promising IP and storytellers on Wattpad.

The technology helps deconstruct stories by analyzing things like sentence structure, word use and grammar, with the goal of helping to uncover the next best seller. It’s used today to help identify stories to turn into films, TV shows, books, and other digital projects.

Key to Wattpad’s ability to make these business deals is its online community, which today includes over 70 million monthly users, who spend over 22 billion minutes engaged with its original stories uploaded to its site.

This sizable community helped make Netflix’s “The Kissing Booth” movie a success, where the original story behind the film had already been read 19 million times by users worldwide.

Wattpad’s “Light as a Feather,” produced for Hulu along with AwesomenessTV and Grammnet, has been Emmy-nominated, and just got renewed for a second season.

Wattpad’s “After,” launched in theaters on April 12. It’s based on Harry Styles fan fiction and is something of a “50 Shades..” for a younger demographic. Before it became five-book series, it first racked up over a billion reads on Wattpad’s site.

Today, Wattpad works with a range of entertainment partners worldwide for similar deals, including iflix, eOne, Huayi Brothers Korea, SYFY, and others, and has turned its stories into projects at Universal Cable Productions (NBCU), Hulu, Netflix, and elsewhere.

Sony Pictures TV already had a relationship with Wattpad, before today’s news.

Last year, it acquired the series “Death is My BFF” from Katerina E. Tonks, which has over 62 million reads on the site. Lindsey Rosin (“Cruel Intentions”) is slated to write the series.

“Our entertainment partners all over the world have seen the power of our data-backed approach to IP discovery and development.” said Aron Levitz, Head of Wattpad Studios, in a statement. “Wattpad stories are some of the most innovative and creative that have ever been written. The stories and diverse voices on Wattpad deserve to be heard all over the world. And our partnership with Sony does just that: bringing Wattpad stories to new and existing fans all over the planet,” he said.

The Sony deal will be overseen by Eric Lehrman, Wattpad’s Head of Content Development and Production, the company says.

Wattpad is represented by UTA, who helped broker the deal.

 

HBO’s mobile apps to gain a million new downloads courtesy of ‘Game of Thrones’ premiere

In addition to exciting its loyal legion of fans, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” premiere was also once again great news for installs of the network’s app for cord cutters, HBO NOW, which shot to the top of the App Store this weekend. The app this weekend saw a combined 300,000-plus new mobile subscribers in the U.S. across both Apple’s App Store and Google Play, according to preliminary estimates from Sensor Tower.

This is the highest the app has ranked on the U.S. iPhone App Store in three years, Sensor Tower notes, with its previous highest ranking on April 24, 2016 for the Season 6 “Game of Thrones” premiere. At that time, the app had seen 160,000 downloads on just the one day.

Sensor Tower expects to have more precise estimates of the premiere’s impact in the near future, as it wants to incorporate numbers from the fans who are getting a late start and downloading the app today.

Currently, the app is holding its No. 1 position on Apple’s App Store. If that continues, it could easily add another couple hundred thousand over the course of today (Monday, April 15, 2019), Sensor Tower estimates. That could see the app surpassing 500,000 new downloads across the three-day period.

To be clear, these numbers refer to users who have never before installed the app on their phone – not re-downloads.

Of course, this isn’t necessarily a 1:1 correlation with new HBO NOW subscribers. Many fans watch the series on their TV’s big screen through an HBO app for devices like Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, and others. Or they may tune in to watch on the web, via their laptop. Still, it’s a notable number – especially considering how late it is in the series for the show to be gaining new fans.

HBO’s app for cable and satellite TV customers, HBO Go, also did well this weekend. It’s on track to exceed 400,000 installs over the same three-day period (the weekend of the Season 8 premiere, plus Monday). This is highest the app has ranked since the Season 7 premiere in July 2017, when it added 350,000 first-time users across both stores worldwide.

Combined, the two apps — HBO Go and HBO NOW — are poised to exceed over 1 million new installs in this three-day period, Sensor Tower forecasts.

However, fans’ interest in the long-awaited new season may have caused HBO’s apps to struggle some.

There have been reports from Down Detector and Business Insider of users who had issues streaming from the HBO apps, as well as Hulu. But these were nowhere on the scale of crashes we’ve seen in years past — as with the Season 4 “Game of Thrones” premiere, which had HBO issuing a public apology due to the size of the outage. (HBO has not responded to our requests for comment about the unconfirmed reports detailing last night’s issues. So the issues could be chalked up to users’ broadband connections, or other factors.)

Other TV apps had a few glitches, too, thanks to the premiere. For example, the TV-tracking social app TV Time temporarily struggled to load, shortly after the premiere’s airing last night. On its app, “Game of Thrones” is one of the most-tracked shows, where it has 4.3 million followers who post comments, photos, memes and more to the show’s in-app community. Today, there are some 6,200 comments in the show’s forum, from fans discussing the show.

The Roku Channel adds support for HBO just in time for ‘Game of Thrones’

Just days ahead of the return of “Game of Thrones,” Roku has forged a deal with HBO which now gives the media device maker the ability to sell the premium channel as a subscription through its dedicated content hub, The Roku Channel. Originally a destination for free and ad-supported movies and TV, The Roku Channel in January rolled out a significant update that put it in more direct competition with Amazon Channels with the launch of premium subscriptions.

Now, alongside the free content, Roku users can choose to subscribe to premium channels like Showtime, Starz, EPIX, and others – including, as of this week, HBO. Those channels’ content can then be streamed directly through The Roku Channel itself on TVs as well as within Roku’s updated mobile app.

When The Roku Channel’s subscription platform made its debut earlier this year, HBO was one of the biggest names to come up missing, along with Netflix and Hulu.

But Netflix and Hulu don’t tend to allow subscriptions through third-party platforms like The Roku Channel (or, more recently, via Apple TV+). HBO, however, does. The premium channel and home to “Game of Thrones” is available as an add-on across a range of streaming services and a la carte TV providers – including The Roku Channel’s biggest competitor, Amazon Prime Video Channels. 

Without HBO in The Roku Channel, users who wanted to stream one of TV’s biggest shows would have to leave Roku’s hub and navigate back to the Roku home screen where they could access HBO directly through its dedicated Roku app. That was bad news for Roku as it’s trying to keep users’ viewing activity centralized and contained in one spot, in order to promote the ad-supported fare that helps Roku make money.

Roku says users can now opt into a free 7-day HBO trial in The Roku Channel, which then converts to a $14.99 per month subscription if the trial isn’t cancelled.

Those who subscribe to HBO through The Roku Channel won’t be able to login to HBO’s standalone apps, HBO NOW or HBO Go, but will instead watch its content through Roku’s hub, where its programs are featured alongside Roku’s over 10,000 free movies and TV episodes.

Like other Roku Channel subscriptions, HBO will appear on users’ one monthly bill.

For consumers, keeping all your add-on TV subscriptions in one place makes it easier to track what you’re paying for, and simplifies the cancellation process when you’re ready to adjust your cord cutting mix.

Talking the future of media with Northzone’s Pär-Jörgen Pärson

We live in the subscription streaming era of media. Across film, TV, music, and audiobooks, subscription streaming platforms now shape the market. Gaming and podcasting could be next. Where are the startup opportunities in this shift, and in the next shift that will occur?

I sat down with Pär-Jörgen “PJ” Pärson, a partner at European venture firm Northzone, to discuss this at SLUSH this past winter. Pärson – a Swede who now runs Northzone’s office in NYC – led the top early-stage investor in Spotify and led the $35 million Series C in $45/month sports streaming service fuboTV (which has roughly 250,000 subscribers).

In the transcript below, we dive into the core investment thesis that has guided him for 20 years, how he went from running a fish distribution to running a VC firm, his best practices for effective board meetings and VC-entrepreneur relationships, and his assessment of the big social platforms, AR/VR, voice interfaces, blockchain, and the frontier of media. It has been edited for length and clarity.

From Fish to VC

Eric Peckham:

Northzone isn’t your first VC firm — Back in 1998, you created Cell Ventures, which was more of a holding company or studio model. What was your playbook then?

T-Mobile’s mobile TV service to include Viacom channels like MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central & more

T-Mobile and Viacom this morning announced a deal that will bring Viacom’s TV channels – like MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET, Paramount and others – to T-Mobile’s new mobile video service planned for later this year. The agreement will allow T-Mobile to offer live, linear feeds of the Viacom channels as well as on-demand viewing.

To date, the carrier’s mobile video plans have been murky. Last year, T-Mobile acquired the Denver-based startup Layer3 TV in order to launch a new over-the-top video service in 2018. It missed that window, saying that it needed more time to work on features and make “quality improvements.”

The company later said that it didn’t want to offer another Amazon Channels-like “skinny bundle” consisting of individual subscriptions to various channels, but wanted to offer something more differentiated where customers could create their own media subscriptions in “smaller pieces” like “five, six, seven or eight dollars at a time.”

Today, T-Mobile says it still plans to move forward with both its home and mobile TV offerings, made possible by the acquisition of Layer3 TV. The in-home TV service is designed to leverage 5G technology to replace cable. Meanwhile, Viacom will be a “cornerstone launch partner” for T-Mobile’s mobile TV efforts, on track for a launch this year.

“Viacom represents the best of the best, most-popular brands on cable, so they are an amazing partner for us,” said John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, in a statement. “TV programming has never been better, but consumers are fed up with rising costs, hidden fees, lousy customer service, non-stop BS. And Macgyvering together a bunch of subscriptions, apps and dongles isn’t much better. That’s why T-Mobile is on a mission to give consumers a better way to watch what they want, when they want,” he said.

Not much is known about T-Mobile’s mobile TV plans at this point, like a more specific launch time frame or price points. It’s also unclear if T-Mobile will go the route of bundling in its TV service with its mobile plans. That’s been a popular strategy for AT&T, which today operates two over-the-top services – a low-end WatchTV designed bundling its more premium DirecTV Now. (It also plans to launch another featuring Warner Bros. content.)

Viacom has deals with other carriers besides T-Mobile, having recently renewed its contract with AT&T for DirecTV Now carriage. It also participates in various other streaming services, including its own service (by way of acquisition) Pluto TV, and has invested in Philo.

“Today’s landmark announcement marks a major step forward in our strategy to accelerate the presence of our brands on mobile and other next-generation platforms,” said Bob Bakish, Viacom President and CEO, in a release. “We’re so excited to partner with T-Mobile to provide millions of subscribers with access to our networks and more choice in a new service that will be unlike any other in the market.”