next-upnext upauthorJanko RoettgersNoneDo you know what's coming next up in the world of tech and entertainment? Get Janko Roettgers' newsletter every Thursday.9147dfd6b1
×

Get access to Protocol

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

I’m already a subscriber
Power

Quibi’s failure is a bad omen for T-Mobile’s video plans

The mobile carrier once heralded Quibi as "the next big thing" — and hasn't had much luck with other video initiatives, either.

Quibi CEO Meg Whitman and T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert

Better days: T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert joined Quibi CEO Meg Whitman on stage at CES this year.

Photo: Janko Roettgers/Protocol

Quibi's shutdown announcement this week has been widely panned as the inevitable end of a service that never made much sense to begin with, much less during the pandemic. However, the company's demise is also a notable failure for T-Mobile, which was one of Quibi's biggest boosters, and even footed the bill for some of its customers as part of a "Quibi on Us" promotion.

"Quibi has been a strong partner with a unique mobile-first vision, and we're sorry to hear they will be winding down operations," a spokesperson told Protocol on Thursday. "Obviously, we will continue to monitor and ensure our customers with Quibi on Us are supported during this period and through any next steps needed."

T-Mobile's embrace of Quibi hasn't been the telco's only miscalculation in the media and entertainment space. It also comes just as T-Mobile appears to gear up for another video service announcement next week.

When incoming T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert joined Quibi executives on stage at CES this year, he was full of praise about the mobile video service. "Quibi's the next big thing, and we're delighted to be a part of it," Sievert told a few dozen journalists and industry insiders. Video, Sievert told the crowd, was already responsible for more than half of the data consumption on T-Mobile's network, and 80% of the video viewed by its customers was short-form content from services like YouTube and TikTok.

Quibi critics have long argued that this was essentially an argument against the service: Consumers were already busy watching clips for free, and there was little reason for them to pay for a premium version, walled off from the social networks that have become a daily habit for Quibi's target audience.

Quibi's execs on the other hand contended that the typical YouTube and TikTok fare wasn't good enough, and that a combination of recognized talent and big budgets would be able to win over millions of viewers. Millions that Sievers promised to deliver through a bundled partnership, complete with in-store promotions. "We're gonna go big," he said. "We're gonna bring it to our 68 million customers."

Financial details of the partnership were never disclosed. However, it's safe to say that T-Mobile did not deliver 68 million customers to Quibi. That's in part because the promotion, which promised T-Mobile customers free access to Qubi's $4.99 subscription tier, was only available to a subset of consumers who had two or more lines with the carrier. Consumers also had to seek out the deal and activate it through T-Mobile's app, adding further friction.

The telco's Quibi partnership was modeled after its promotional deal with Netflix, which first launched in 2017. Back then, the team-up was widely seen as disruptive, as it promised eligible T-Mobile customers free access to Netflix's HD plan, priced $10 per month at the time.

Things got a little more complicated when Netflix decided to raise its prices in 2019, and T-Mobile wasn't willing to cough up the difference. Since then, the carrier's "Netflix on Us" promotion features a hodge-podge of different plans and options, including a free standard-definition tier, and an option to pay $2 out of pocket to stream in HD.

T-Mobile's most puzzling foray into media to date has been its late 2017 acquisition of Layer 3, a small pay TV service that set out to reinvent the cable experience without changing the industry's core business model. T-Mobile shelled out $325 million for Layer 3, which at the time had just 5,000 paying customers.

The company has since rebranded Layer 3's service as TVision, a TV service that delivers a cable-like bundle starting at $100 a month plus taxes. In many ways, it's a very Quibi-like product-market-fit: Consumers have been ditching pay TV by the millions, and replaced expensive bundles with much more affordable combinations of Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. But T-Mobile chose to ignore those signs, and instead simply built a slightly-better-looking interface for its still very expensive service.

"TVision is #Undisruptive," noted Lightshed Partners analyst Walter Piecyk at the time. "Who would buy this?"

Now, T-Mobile is looking to take the next step on its journey to become a media company. On Thursday, the company teased an upcoming TV-themed Uncarrier announcement for next week, complete with a video of a customer, played by Rashida Jones, calling up her cable company to complain about fees, and Sievert quipping: "You know what? It's time."

T-Mobile's next iteration of its TV service is likely going to be based on an Android TV dongle that has surfaced in regulatory filings in recent weeks. There's been no word yet on the pricing of the new service, or the kind of programming it will offer — but if T-Mobile's big bet on Quibi is any indication, the company will have its work cut out to find a proper market fit.

People

Google’s trying to build a more inclusive, less chaotic future of work

Javier Soltero, the VP of Workspace at Google, said time management is everything.

With everyone working in new places, Google believes time management is everything.

Image: Google

Javier Soltero was still pretty new to the G Suite team when the pandemic hit. Pretty quickly, everything about Google's hugely popular suite of work tools seemed to change. (It's not even called G Suite anymore, but rather Workspace.) And Soltero had to both guide his team through a new way of working and help them build the tools to guide billions of Workspace users.

This week, Soltero and his team announced a number of new Workspace features designed to help people manage their time, collaborate and get stuff done more effectively. It offered new tools for frontline workers to communicate better, more hardware for hybrid meetings, lots of Assistant and Calendar features to make planning easier and a picture-in-picture mode so people could be on Meet calls without really having to pay attention.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Sponsored Content

The future of computing at the edge: an interview with Intel’s Tom Lantzsch

An interview with Tom Lantzsch, SVP and GM, Internet of Things Group at Intel

An interview with Tom Lantzsch

Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corporation

Edge computing had been on the rise in the last 18 months – and accelerated amid the need for new applications to solve challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Tom Lantzsch, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Internet of Things Group (IoT) at Intel Corp., thinks there are more innovations to come – and wants technology leaders to think equally about data and the algorithms as critical differentiators.

In his role at Intel, Lantzsch leads the worldwide group of solutions architects across IoT market segments, including retail, banking, hospitality, education, industrial, transportation, smart cities and healthcare. And he's seen first-hand how artificial intelligence run at the edge can have a big impact on customers' success.

Protocol sat down with Lantzsch to talk about the challenges faced by companies seeking to move from the cloud to the edge; some of the surprising ways that Intel has found to help customers and the next big breakthrough in this space.

What are the biggest trends you are seeing with edge computing and IoT?

A few years ago, there was a notion that the edge was going to be a simplistic model, where we were going to have everything connected up into the cloud and all the compute was going to happen in the cloud. At Intel, we had a bit of a contrarian view. We thought much of the interesting compute was going to happen closer to where data was created. And we believed, at that time, that camera technology was going to be the driving force – that just the sheer amount of content that was created would be overwhelming to ship to the cloud – so we'd have to do compute at the edge. A few years later – that hypothesis is in action and we're seeing edge compute happen in a big way.

Keep Reading Show less
Saul Hudson
Saul Hudson has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, especially in understanding and targeting messages in cutting-edge technologies. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, in helping companies to build passionate audiences and accelerate their growth. Hudson has reported from more than 30 countries, from war zones to boardrooms to presidential palaces. He has led multinational, multi-lingual teams and managed operations for hundreds of journalists. Hudson is a Managing Partner at Angle42, a strategic communications consultancy.
Power

Cord cutting in 2020: Pay TV industry lost 5.5 million subscribers

Subscriber defections slowed toward the end of the year, but there's no end to cord cutting in sight.

The pay TV industry is undergoing a bit of a power shift.

Photo: Nicolas J Leclercq/Unsplash

The five biggest pay TV providers lost a combined 5.5 million subscribers in 2020, narrowly staying below the 5.8 million subscribers the companies collectively lost in 2019. Subscriber losses slowed a bit toward the end of the year, but pandemic-related cutbacks still hit the industry hard — and may have led to hundreds of thousands additional cancellations if not for industry-wide billing relief efforts.

The industry is undergoing a bit of a power shift, with pay TV subscribers switching from traditional operators like Comcast and AT&T to tech companies like Google and Hulu and their respective pay TV services. However, a closer look at pay TV trends suggests that these gains may be temporary, as so-called skinny bundles fall out of favor with consumers once operators are forced to increase their price tags to make up for ever-increasing network licensing costs.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

Keep Reading Show less
Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

20 years of orange cones: The history of VLC

How a student project became one of the world's most popular open-source apps, powering much of modern-day media, without ever creating a huge windfall for its developers.

VLC is 20 years old and has been downloaded more than 3.5 billion times.

Photo: Getty Images

When students at the École Centrale Paris lobbied for a campus network upgrade in the '90s, they weren't really thinking about the future of media. All they wanted was to play Duke Nukem 3D. But the public-private partnership that made the first-person shooter work on their campus network also laid the groundwork for the birth of the popular media player VLC.

Open sourced 20 years ago this month, VLC has since been downloaded more than 3.5 billion times, making it one of the most popular free software projects to date. Software developed for VLC is being used to power some of the world's largest streaming services. Despite all of this, VLC has largely remained a labor of love, with developers saying no to deals worth tens of millions of dollars.

Keep Reading Show less
Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Latest Stories