Verizon’s Bold Play

Verizon’s announcement this week that it will launch a new video aggregation service called +play amounts to its current strategy on steroids. The carrier already partners with third-party streamers from Disney, AMC Networks, Sling TV, Discovery, and others to bolster its core wireless business, with the Disney bundle including Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ even coming free with some plans. But the +play announcement – unveiled during Verizon’s Investor Day event on Thursday – represents a significant expansion, effectively doubling down on Verizon’s use of streaming partnerships to cement wireless and broadband customer loyalty.

The +play offerings vastly expand on Verizon’s current streaming partnerships, suggesting the start of a much more eclectic mix of content options for its customers. While new partners include usual suspects like Netflix (of course), A+E Networks (Lifetime Movie Club, HISTORY Vault, and A&E Crime Central), and TelevisaUnivision’s Vix+, they also include fitness play Peloton, Veeps concert livestreams, WW International (formerly Weight Watchers), sports site The Athletic, meditation app Calm, and language-learning software Duolingo. We can only assume more deals are on the way across multiple disciplines as Verizon trials +play this month in preparation for its commercial launch later this year (no launch date yet). The scope of Verizon’s entertainment partnerships through its wireless product already makes it one of the biggest DTC platforms in the U.S. In announcing +play during Verizon’s Investor Day on Thursday, Manon Brouillette, EVP & Group CEO Verizon Consumer, argued that consumers crave better content discovery tools, are reaching a “subscription management pain point” as they juggle multiple streaming accounts, and want to manage everything from any device. “We are going to solve that,” she said.

Next? Indeed, Verizon seems to be assembling its own ecosystem similar to the Apple or Android app store. And if Apple taught us anything, it’s that these sorts of ecosystems do, in fact, foster intense customer loyalty. In addition, Verizon wants to hit 60% 5G mobile penetration by 2023—and 80% by 2025. Making it easy for consumers to manage high-bandwidth apps is one way to make 5G indispensable. And Verizon clearly hopes that once its best and highest-paying/margin customers get addicted to managing everything through +play seamlessly across devices, competitive carriers – including cable MVNO players – will have an exceedingly difficult time peeling them away.

Some have already pointed out that Verizon is the company that gave us go90, which famously failed to catch fire as a much-hyped wireless entertainment play. But that was the mid-2010s, and the world wasn’t nearly as crowded. The shutdown of go90 in 2018 preceded the streaming storm that would begin only a year later with HBO Max, AMC+, discovery+ , and Paramount+. Sure, virtual MVPDs like Sling TV and Tubi were around, but this was a far less mature marketplace. People now average nearly nine streaming subscriptions, and more gaming, music, and other types of apps than ever. It’s a different world today.

Does that mean +play will succeed? Not necessarily. But because of Verizon’s massive muscle in the wireless space, it’s likely that other carriers will have to start considering competitive ecosystems. And it’s not just the big pure-plays like AT&T and T-Mobile. The cable MVNOs may also need to step up their own efforts to forge even more partnerships in entertainment, gaming, fitness, and beyond to keep up – especially as 5G fixed wireless offerings and a fiber building craze dilutes the once dominant power of cable’s broadband pipe. Of course, we have to remember that Apple and Google already help people manage subscriptions through their app stores. Is there room for more?  It’s a different world, alright. The only question now is sustainability when the population skyrockets.


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