On Wednesday, T-Mobile announced that it plans to launch an internet TV service sometime in 2018. The carrier is in the process of acquiring Layer3 TV for an undisclosed sum to help jumpstart the new offering.
In typical T-Mobile fashion, CEO John Legere vowed that this TV service will radically disrupt the traditional cable / satellite industry, and the company is also touting it as a superior option to other streaming TV competitors like Sling TV, DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue, Hulu, and YouTube TV. “We’re gonna build TV for people who love TV, Legere said. “This will be as big, if not bigger than the revolution we created in wireless.”
T-Mobile hasn’t directly confirmed features or pricing on the upcoming service. But early mock-ups from the company give us some idea of what’s on the way. Obviously, this is all subject to change; we don’t even know when next year this thing is coming.
It will have tiered channel packages.
During a call discussing the Layer3 acquisition and upcoming service, T-Mobile executives made it pretty clear that they don’t plan to offer the one-size-fits-most “slim” bundles that you’d get from YouTube TV or Hulu’s TV service. Instead, it’s pretty much a certainty that T-Mobile will offer different tiers of channels — just like DirecTV Now and Sony’s PlayStation Vue. (Sling TV also offers numerous channel add-ons.)
This approach pretty closely resembles the model of traditional cable. The more you pay, the more content you receive. YouTube and Hulu, meanwhile, hope that their respective $35 and $40 monthly subscription prices will be enough to compensate for any channels that they might lack.
There will be a cloud DVR.
T-Mobile’s TV service will include a cloud DVR to let you watch shows after they’ve aired live. This is pretty much tables stakes at this point, and is something that Sling TV, PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV, Hulu, and soon DirecTV Now customers already get.
Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube might be directly integrated with the service.
Numerous frames from T-Mobile’s mockup video show Netflix programming like Ozark and Stranger Things 2 featured right inside T-Mobile’s TV service just like any other TV show.
If you’re able to hit play and stream Netflix content without switching apps, that would be rather unprecedented among streaming TV services; it’s a level of integration that T-Mobile’s current competitors just don’t offer. (Some cable operators offer a Netflix “channel” that’s basically just a shortcut to the regular app.)
Other frames briefly show Hulu and YouTube listed, as well. And note how the service’s interface appears directly overtop Stranger Things in the main image at the top of this article.
There will be a huge social component.
T-Mobile’s promotional videos also reveal that the TV service will put a big emphasis on social. The mockup screens suggest that you’ll be able to see what shows are popular with your friends. Again, this isn’t a feature that existing services have at the moment.
Sling TV, Vue, and other services will show what’s trending among viewers, but it looks as though T-Mobile will allow you to form a sort of friend’s list to see what people you actually know are watching — even in real time. Note the “watching now” text in the image below. There’s also what looks like a messaging icon, so it’s possible you’ll be able to chat with friends (or fire off a quick text) about whatever everyone’s tuned into.
This is something that companies including Hulu have explored and considered. Ahead of the launch of its own live TV service earlier this year, Hulu showed me prototypes and ideas that didn’t make it into the released software. To build the TV experience around social and a list of friends, you need a ton of subscribers first.
You’ll be able to set up different profiles for each account.
When our friend Nathan here signs in, we (very) briefly get a look at other aspects of T-Mobile’s service. He’s shown some of that social component through a home screen that highlights what’s been popular with his friends. And then, we quickly see a user profile switching screen that shows a total of five people.
This isn’t a unique or standout feature. DirecTV Now, YouTube TV, and PlayStation Vue all offer individual user profiles with each subscription.
These are the channels and services that appeared in the mockup video:
There’s no telling if these will be part of the finished T-Mobile service or if they were merely used for demo purposes.
- Discovery Go
- Food Network
- Showtime Anytime
T-Mobile customers will probably get a free trial (or early beta access).
Mike Sievert, T-Mobile’s chief operating officer, hinted that T-Mobile will turn to its customers for feedback as it builds out this TV service. And there’s no easier way to get off to a big start than offering those same customers a chance to test it out for free. “We have access to tens of millions of handsets that can be the basis for trial for our TV services,” he said during a conference call on the Layer3 acquisition.
Of course there will be a phone / TV service bundle from T-Mobile.
John Legere has regularly mocked AT&T for pushing DirecTV Now on mobile subscribers who might only be interested in wireless service. But once T-Mobile’s TV product is ready to go, you can expect to see the same exact thing. The company has confirmed it plans to take full advantage of its retail presence and customer service operations to amplify the TV service’s reach. So you can count on seeing a special deal for people who want to get both their phone and TV on the same bill.
Breaking down John Legere’s rhetoric
T-Mobile is using the same kind of aggressive language in hyping up its TV service that John Legere did when he first announced the “Uncarrier” movement at CES 2011. “People love their TV, but they hate their TV providers,” Legere said Wednesday. “And worse, they have no real choice but to simply take it.” Replace “TV” with “smartphone” and you’ve got the standard T-Mobile schtick. “These guys are the absolute worst,” he said of cable and satellite providers. “It’s no surprise that 8 of the 10 most hated brands in America are cable and TV providers.”
Those complaints made a lot sense when directed towards Verizon and AT&T several years ago. And sure, they probably still depict how a fair number of people feel about Comcast, Charter, and other home cable providers. Consumers instinctively feel like they’re getting ripped off by these companies. T-Mobile is wise to focus the taunts and trash talk in their direction.
But Legere isn’t exactly being fair to the five internet TV services that have beaten T-Mobile to market. They’ve already proven to be viable alternatives to your typical cable package. AT&T, Dish, YouTube, Hulu, and Sony would all tell you that their streaming TV services are already designed for the mobile age. They work across devices including TVs, tablets, PCs, and smartphones. You can watch anywhere. And the monthly pricing of them really isn’t all that confusing or misleading. There are no contracts. And all of these services are trying to improve discoverability, serve more personalized recommendations, and evolve the interface around TV.
That said, they’re also far from perfect. Some have dealt with streaming interruptions and other reliability problems. Some lack Viacom channels and additional content that cable switchers might want. So T-Mobile has plenty of room to establish itself.
But what’s going to make T-Mobile’s version so special? What’s the standout thing? That’s really the big unknown as we head into 2018.