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T-Mobile gives cord-cutters what they want, and media companies aren’t happy about it

Discovery is “very surprised” about having its channels unbundled from sports, despite calling for TV providers to do just that.

T-Mobile gives cord-cutters what they want, and media companies aren’t happy about it
[Photo: iStock]
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Last week, T-Mobile announced a new streaming TV service called TVision. While it’s still just one of many alternatives to cable TV, it’s unique in that it splits most entertainment channels into a separate bundle from news, sports, and local channels. The non-sports package, whose 30 channels include Discovery, Food Network, Comedy Central, and AMC, costs just $10 per month, while the other bundle starts at $40 per month.

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But apparently, Discovery CEO David Zaslav isn’t too pleased with this arrangement. In an earnings call (as reported by Cord Cutters News), Zaslav said the company was “very surprised” at T-Mobile’s packaging, adding that it was in “active discussions” to resolve the issue. “We don’t believe they have a right to do what they’re doing right now,” Zaslav said.

Reached for comment, a T-Mobile spokesperson said, “We are of course complying with our content agreements, and we are absolutely open to evolving our services to make them even better for consumers.”

While it’s strange for T-Mobile to have launched a pay TV service without the full blessing of content owners, it’s even stranger that Zaslav is taking umbrage with TVision’s packaging. Earlier this year, Zaslav was bemoaning the fact that sports have driven up the price of pay TV service, and calling for cheaper sports free options.

“What we should have in the U.S. is what everyone else has, which is a bundle of content that doesn’t have sports that would be very affordable,” Zaslav said during an earnings call in May. He even called out Philo, a $20 bundle of non-sports channels similar to what T-Mobile offers, as a positive example.

Maybe T-Mobile’s bundle is a little too cheap for Zaslav’s liking. Discovery continues to tease its own plans for a standalone streaming service—something the company has hinted at for years—and says it will provide actual details next month. If the pricing is in the same ballpark as what T-Mobile is offering for a much broader bundle, that might take the air out of Discovery’s big unveiling.

In other words, Discovery wants TV bundles to be cheaper and more affordable—but not by too much.

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Update Thursday, 4 p.m.:

It looks like this is turning into a bigger fight. Sources have told The Streamable’s Jason Gurwin that NBC Universal also believes T-Mobile is violating the terms of its carriage agreement by not including NBC and Telemundo in all of its packages. ViacomCBS, meanwhile, reportedly has concerns about its channels being relegated to T-Mobile’s $10 per month package, and not its pricier bundles.

In other words, none of these companies want their channels to be broken up into smaller, more flexible packages. Instead, they are insisting on more bloated bundles at higher prices, even as customers abandon those packages at record rates.