T-Mobile U.S. Inc. (TMUS) CEO John Legere has long maligned wireless rivals Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and AT&T (T) for their policies and corporate decisions. Now he's taking his game of smack talk to the TV business as the wireless carrier announced the purchase of Layer 3 TV Inc. on Wednesday.
"I can't wait to bring the fight to big cable and satellite TV," Legere said during an investor and media call on Wednesday.
Shares of T-Mobile gained 0.6% to $63.83 on Wednesday following the announcement. The companies did not disclose the price of the deal.
Layer 3's service, which currently requires a set-top box, carries more than 250 high-definition channels, including ESPN, AMC, HBO. CEO and co-founder Jeff Binder said that the company has more 4K video channels than any other provider.
T-Mobile will launch its own service next year, but does not now plan to develop original content.
"The problem out there today is not that there isn't great content and [that] somebody new needs to come and fund content," COO Mike Sievert said. Instead, Sievert argued, the challenges are in the technologies that provide access to content and ways to search and discover new programming.
The target draws from the worlds of telecom and media. Binder previously founded Broadbus Technologies Inc., which Motorola Inc. acquired in 2006. Chief technology officer Dave Fellows is a veteran of Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) , while Chief Content Officer Lindsay Gardner is a veteran of Twentieth Century Fox (FOXA).
Layer 3's investors include Evolution Media, whose shareholders include TPG Growth and Creative Artists Agency; Paulson and Company Inc.; cable provider Altice USA Inc. (ATUS) ; and North Bridge Venture Partners, among others.
A mutual investor in T-Mobile and Layer 3 introduced the two parties to one another, Legere said on the investor call. While Legere did not specify who the mutual investor was, Paulson and Co. does have stakes in both companies. Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC and LionTree Advisors advised Layer 3.
The acquisition follows T-Mobile's offer of free Netflix Inc. (NFLX) to customers of its family plans starting in September. Legere said the company would offer a service "free from contracts, [with] better quality, [that would] innovate and simplify, with great customer service," during the call.
Layer 3 bucks a number of trends in online TV, Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson LLC observed in a Wednesday report. "At a time when the world seemed to want skinny bundles, Layer3 TV went fat," Moffett wrote, noting that the company has also invested in fiber and has a higher-cost model than most of the newcomers to the video market. "At a time when everyone seemed to be trying to rid themselves of hardware, Layer 3 bet on set-top boxes," he added.
T-Mobile CFO Braxton Carter and COO Sievert teased the acquisition at a New York media conference earlier in December.
"There's a lot of potential out there that would be another use of cash during upcoming years and who knows maybe we'll be announcing something here fairly soon," Carter said at the time.
The executives said then that T-Mobile would be looking at regional wireless carriers, companies involved in the convergence of content and broadband, providers of business services and applications, and opportunities to leverage its consumer brand platform.
"It doesn't have to be the AT&T or Verizon or Comcast way to announce $30 billion, $40 billion, $50 billion deals," Carter said. "There are other ways for us to play in the convergence smartly, but the convergence is real and we're in the part of that business where everybody wants to be."
T-Mobile said there was no connection between the Layer 3 deal and the FCC's vote to undo Net Neutrality rules on Thursday.
"We're not worried about that," Sievert said, noting that T-Mobile is a national broadband provider with 71 million customers. "We're not just dependent on other companies."
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