Can mobile carriers become the new MVPDs?

Verizon announced plans to launch an aggregator service, +Play, which will give its 130+ million customers (retail and Fios) the ability to discover, buy, and manage subscriptions across entertainment, audio, gaming, fitness, music, and lifestyle services. The company will begin testing the service with limited customers later this month before rolling out nationwide later in the year.

Initial partners include Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+, Discovery, AMC+, Peloton, Veeps, A+E Networks (Lifetime Movie Club, HISTORY Vault, and A&E Crime Central), The Athletic, Calm, Duolingo, TelevisaUnivision’s Vix+ among several others.

Down with O.P.P.

We all remember some of Verizon’s failed media experiences in the past, none more notable than go90. Why go90 failed was because the company made the mistake of chasing ad revenue by solving a business problem instead of fixing a consumer need.

In its +Play release, Verizon remarked, “By 2024, the average streamer will subscribe to more than five services. With more and more platforms launching across content, gaming, music, news, and lifestyle, it’s increasingly difficult for consumers to know what they have, what’s available, what they’re paying, and if they’re getting the best value.”

This comment could not be more accurate and lies a consumer need herein.

Managing multiple subscriptions, usernames, and passwords to various video apps, let alone all of your subscriptions, is a serious pain. Nobody dominates this area, and Verizon thinks they might have a solution.

Where go90 was focused on original content, +Play is based on other people’s content (O.P.P.). Regardless of what industry chatter may say, you don’t need original content to create something that matters in this industry.

With that said, the +Play announcement comes on the heels of other similar services already offered by Apple, Amazon, Roku, and others that manage multiple subscriptions under a single roof.

As Jim Gaffigan put it via Twitter, “They should bundle all the streaming services together and call it cable.”

Screenshot from a webinar I hosted with NPAW, Re-bonding Strategies: Building Loyalty Through Content.

Verizon wants to be a service for your subscription services

Per Protocol, Verizon is good at one thing, and that’s being a service that hundreds of millions of people subscribe to, for internet or TV or both, and being a bill those people pay every month.

Mere days before the +Play announcement, I canceled a couple of subscriptions via Verizon (seasonal churn is real, my friends). At that moment, it occurred to me that mobile providers acting as aggregators should be something I should be thinking about. Since all of these services are powered by the Internet, it made sense that they can all be managed by your internet or mobile provider. It was even worthy enough for me to create a note.

The current landscape

Navigating multiple TV apps is frustrating, and I often say, “The value prop of cable was a good one,” referring to a single UI for all of your (cable) content. Amazon, Roku, and Apple have all recreated that ease of use with their respective streaming video aggregators Prime Video Channels, The Roku Channel, and The Apple TV app.

For a consumer, the promise of a single bill and all of your streaming content consolidated in a single UI sounds sexy (on paper). However, it has some drawbacks, and I poke holes in these aggregator solutions in this oldie but goodie Zemoga blog post. (Takeaway, the owned and operated versions of apps are better for consumers and any media company with direct-to-consumer aspirations.)

(Most) media companies crave the direct-to-consumer relationship, and they don’t get that when their product is sold through an aggregator such as Amazon Prime Channels. Also, customer data is stored in a black box, shielded from the media company, and wholly-owned by the aggregator. Services such as Britbox, Starz, Showtime that have direct-to-consumer apps AND add-on subscription channels sold through aggregators are essentially competing with their app store partners (Amazon, Roku, Apple). 

Not only that, but internally you’re even competing within your own organization. For example, your direct-to-consumer team is competing internally against your affiliate/wholesale group over where subscribers sign up, which can even impact individuals’ quarterly or annual bonuses. 

This, among several other reasons, is why HBO Max pulled itself out of the aggregator (or wholesale) game and was even willing to get into a stalemate with Roku and Amazon (the two biggest streaming distribution platforms with a combined 70% market share at the time).

Why this might work

If you’re a media company with direct-to-consumer aspirations, your future is lies within your owned-and-operated properties (i.e., your apps). However, app stores could have a strange road ahead of them. For starters, as Amazon, Roku, and Apple all further build out their streaming aggregator products, app stores are getting pushed to the side.

Worth mentioning, as the companies behind app stores face increasing scrutiny from regulars, there might come a day where app stores are broken off from their owners. Right now, the heat’s on mostly Apple (and Google), but don’t think this couldn’t also have some implications down the road for CTV platforms such as Roku and Amazon Fire TV. I don’t believe Roku will need to split off its app store, but I see the possibility of Roku being forced to allow media companies to offer their own in-app billing functionality. Currently, Roku requires services to use their Roku Pay platform, which charges a 20% bounty on all subscriptions acquired through Roku.

What makes a company like Verizon unique to solve the multi-subscription challenges is that they’re independent, which is really weird saying since, at the time of writing, the company is worth $225 billion.

Verizon’s goal is to become the main portal for the web. Right now, my video subscriptions are spread across more than five different platforms…and that’s only my video subscriptions. Being able to consolidate all of these subscriptions into one place is a good thing. You’re probably thinking, “Apple does this already,” however it should be noted that both Netflix and Spotify (services I subscribe to) are not part of Apple Pay. Also, as of now, you can’t get the Disney+ bundle via Apple either. These services seem to be supported by +Play. 

For consumers, this solution to manage all of your subscriptions within a single place, such as your mobile provider, makes sense. For media companies, partnering with mobile providers is a great way to introduce new services and offers which in turn can increase customer acquisition. And for Verizon, the more people build up their managed subscriptions and partake in various offers, the less likely they are to consider switching providers. 

I think we’ll even see Verizon start to offer discounted subscription bundles one day. While this will be obviously great for consumers, media companies can look to reduce churn if their product is packaged together with other offerings. Again, seasonal churn is very real.

All of this is great for Verizon.

As we get close to the metaverse, being the default login of things (whether that ends up being Verizon or not) cannot be understated. You may add, cancel, and pause your streaming video subscriptions, but if there’s one account you’re not going to drop, it’s their cellular or internet provider.

What do you think? Is Verizon’s +Play service? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.


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