When it comes to scale, Disney (DIS - Get Report) has enough to launch a successful streaming service in a landscape where a large percentage of consumers already watch Netflix (NFLX - Get Report) and Amazon.com's (AMZN - Get Report) Prime Video and are unlikely to cancel either service.
And though a lot more clarity is needed about what its planned streaming offerings will look like, AT&T's (T - Get Report) Time Warner unit, which owns assets such as HBO, TBS, TNT and DC Comics, might also be big enough to be competitive.
But relatively smaller content providers, such as Viacom (VIAB - Get Report) , CBS (CBS - Get Report) , Discovery Communications (DISCA - Get Report) and AMC Networks (AMCX - Get Report) , are in a tougher spot. While these firms undoubtedly have valuable content assets, brands and intellectual property, their content bases aren't large enough to deliver direct-to-consumer (D2C) streaming services that can convince a large percentage of consumers to add another monthly bill to their credit cards.
And without creating a large base of paid subscribers, the companies will lack the scale to significantly add to their online content libraries, whether by financing originals or licensing popular, third-party material.
In the absence of such scale, it makes sense for smaller players to either merge or to sell to someone bigger, just as Fox Networks has sold itself to Disney and Viacom and CBS have explored a deal. But unless these companies are able to address their scale issues via M&A, it makes a lot of sense for them to be willing to partner with Netflix and Amazon, as well as with smaller players and upstarts.
All of this might be relevant to Viacom's signing of a content distribution deal with T-Mobile US (TMUS - Get Report) to support the mobile TV service that T-Mobile is prepping. According to the deal's terms, Viacom, whose assets include MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, BET and Paramount Pictures, will be "a cornerstone launch partner" for T-Mobile's service, allowing it to offer both Viacom's TV channels and "a broad range of on-demand content."
The deal's financial terms are unknown. Regardless, it's worth noting that Viacom is the first major TV channel owner to ink a deal for T-Mobile's TV service, which the carrier originally wanted to launch in 2018 following its late-2017 purchase of TV and broadband service provider Layer3 TV. Last December, Bloomberg reported that T-Mobile's service launch had been pushed back to 2019 "after the project proved more complex than expected."
Bloomberg added that T-Mobile execs "faced the difficult choice of either offering a garden-variety streaming platform" that resembled existing online TV services (i.e., DirectTV Now, YouTube TV, Hulu Live TV), or "waiting until next year to deliver a more groundbreaking product." Ultimately, T-Mobile, which since the Layer3 deal was announced has talked up its plans to disrupt a pay-TV industry featuring high prices and low customer satisfaction levels, chose the second option.
However, while T-Mobile has undoubtedly seen a lot of success disrupting the U.S. wireless carrier market with the help of aggressive pricing and efforts to address various customer pain points, upending the pay-TV industry is arguably much harder. TV channel owners have a tremendous amount of leverage in this space, and many of them are bound to be wary of any deal that risks undermining the massive affiliate fee payments they currently receive from U.S. pay-TV providers. And this in turn might have much to do with the fact that T-Mobile hasn't inked deals with the likes of Disney and Time Warner yet.
However, Viacom, recognizing that it needs to be pragmatic about content licensing in the absence of a successful D2C streaming service, was apparently willing to play ball with T-Mobile. Though financial terms weren't released, the fact that the T-Mobile/Viacom deal is said to cover both TV channels and a large library of on-demand content suggests this wasn't your typical pay-TV licensing deal.
Viacom, it should be noted, has also inked multiple film-production deals with Netflix over the last 12 months, via its Nickelodeon and Paramount studios. And in November, the company's international studio arm struck a deal with Amazon that gave Jeff Bezos' firm exclusive Latin American streaming rights for a pair of original series'.
In a nutshell, T-Mobile is looking to do things differently than other pay-TV providers, and Viacom has shown a willingness to act differently than other large media firms. That made the companies a pretty logical match.
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