Microsoft unveils details for Project xCloud public trial

It’s been a year in the making, but Microsoft is going through the final preparations to launch its game-streaming service, Project xCloud.

The project itself will allow Xbox gamers to play their favourite games by streaming the content onto their mobile devices. Although the technology giant has had to fit out its data centres with specialist servers to run the games, the extensive geographical footprint of its data centre network could make Microsoft a force to be reckoned with in the emerging cloud gaming segment.

“Our vision for Project xCloud is to empower the gamers of the world to play the games they want, with the people they want, anywhere they want,” said Kareem Choudhry, Corporate VP for Project xCloud at Microsoft.

“We’re building this technology so gamers can decide when and how they play. Customers around the world love the immersive content from Xbox in their homes and we want to bring that experience to all of your mobile devices.”

Next month, the public trial will be launched. The US, UK and Korea have been selected as the initial testing grounds, with consumers able to sign-up here. All you’ll need is a wireless controller with Bluetooth and a stable mobile internet connection of 10 Mbps.

More to follow…

IBC 2019: Are the nuances of the content world being understood by telcos?

The traditional telco business model is being commoditised, this is not new news, but with more telcos seeking to drive value through content, do they understand the nuances of consumer behaviour?

Once again at IBC in Amsterdam, it is an OTT which is grabbing attention. This should come as little surprise considering the disruption which this fraternity is thrusting on the world of telecoms, media and technology, though here it is more than gratuitous. Cécile Frot-Coutaz, the head of YouTube’s EMEA business, outlined why these companies are leading the way; a fundamental and intrinsic understanding of today’s consumer and the consumer-driven market trends.

This is perhaps why the telcos and traditional media companies are struggling to adapt to a world dominated by millennials, generation Z and digital natives. They appreciate society is changing but have perhaps not correctly balanced the formula to fit cohesively and efficiently into the new paradigm.

This conundrum is most relevant in the content world. Telcos need to factor this complex and nuanced segment into the business model, but how, where, why and when is a tricky question. Many telcos want to do something completely new and very drastic, but the simplest ideas are often the best ones; how can connectivity be used to augment and enhance the fast-growing, fascinating, complicated and profitable content space?

From our perspective, telcos need to diversify, but the best way to do that is figure how connectivity can enhance growing businesses and segments. This might sound like an obvious statement, however the evidence is the nuances are being missed.

Take AT&T for example. This is a company which desperately wants to diversify to take advantage of the digital economy. One way in which it feels it can do this is through the acquisition of Time Warner, a $107 billion bet to own content, create a streaming platform and drive another avenue of engagement with the consumer. Sounds sensible enough, but why take such a risk when there are opportunities closer to home.

Another strategy is more evident in Europe where telcos are attempting to create partnerships with the streaming giants to embed the distribution of these services through their own platforms. See Sky’s integration of Netflix or Vodafone’s work with Amazon Prime. Again, it is a perfectly reasonable approach, but does this future-proof the business against the trends of tomorrow?

These are two approaches which will attract plaudits, but we would like to take the strategy closer to home once again.

During her presentation, Frot-Coutaz pointed to several trends which could define the content world of tomorrow, and it is a perfect opportunity for the telcos to add value.

Firstly, let’s have a look at the consumer of today and tomorrow. Millennials and Generation Z have fundamentally changed the way in which the media world operates, and content is consumed. Not only is it increasingly mobile-driven, but there are new channels emerging every single day. Technology is second-nature to these consumers, and this is shaping the world of tomorrow.

Another interesting point from Frot-Coutaz is the fragmentation of content. One of the objectives of YouTube is not only to own content channels, but to empower the increasing number of content creators who are emerging in the digital world. If the content creators make more money, so does YouTube.

Frot-Coutaz claims that the number of YouTube channels which generate more than $100,000 per annum has increased 30% from 2017 to 2018. These trends are highly likely to continue, further fragmenting the content landscape.

This is where owning content or embedding popular streaming services into platforms becomes problematic. Consumer trends suggest the variety of channels through which the user is consuming content is increasing not decreasing. Embedding Netflix into a platform is an attractive move, but it is only attractive to those who have an interest in Netflix. If connectivity solutions can be offered to consumers to simplify and enhance the consumption of content, agnostic of the platform, there is a catch-all opportunity.

Although Netflix and Amazon Prime might be the content platforms on everyone’s lips for the moment, the number of ways in which consumers engage content is gathering significant momentum. There are new challengers in the streaming world (Disney+ or Apple TV), traditional social media (Facebook or Twitter), challenger social media (Tik Tok) AVOD channels (YouTube), traditional conversational websites (Reddit), messaging platforms and who knows what else in the 5G era. What about the VR/AR platforms which could potentially emerge soon enough?

This is a nuance, not a drastic change in thinking, but it is an important one to understand. Do telcos want to be the owner of content, the distributor or the delivery model. Admittedly, the delivery model is not the sexiest in comparison, but it might hold the most value in the long-run.

Another way to think about this taking the example of Killing Eve, the BBC spy thriller. Is there more long-term value in the eyes of the consumer in owning the content, owning the distribution channel or owning the connectivity services which fuel consumption and engagement through all channels?

The best means of differentiation have always been the ones which are closest to home. If you look at the likes of Google, Microsoft and Amazon, these are future-proofed companies because they are taking their current services and creating contextual relevance. There might be examples which undermine this point, but the general claim holds strong.

At Google, the team diversified their business through the acquisition of Android. This evolution took Google from the PC screen and onto mobile, but it is an extension of the advertising business model in a different context. The same could be said about YouTube. A video platform is drastically different from a search engine, but the underlying business model is the same; identifying the needs of the consumer and serving relevant commercial content.

The telcos are looking to do the same thing, but perhaps there needs to be more of a focus on a proactive evolution of the business rather than reactive. The telcos are playing catch-up on the consumption of video through mobile and a shift to OTT distribution, but the current approach is perhaps too narrowly focused. Focusing on the core business of connectivity delivery is more of a catch-all approach, factoring in future trends and the increasingly fragmented digital society.

This is a very easy statement to make, the complications will be on creating products which encapsulate these trends and offer an opportunity for telcos to grow ARPU. We are sitting very comfortable in the commentary box here as opposed to in the trenches with the product development teams, but the nuances of content are there to be taken advantage of.

IBC 2019: Linear TV isn’t dead just yet

This might sound like a very bold and short-sighted statement, but thanks to the development of IP-based standards, traditional broadcasters might just be able to survive in the digital economy.

This is of course not a statement which suggests business is as usual, there are major restructures and realignments which need to occur to future-proof the business, but linear TV and traditional broadcasters can survive in the cut-throat world of tomorrow.

The change which is being forced onto the world is HbbTV and ATSC 3.0, two new standards for the traditional broadcasters to get behind which offer the opportunity to create the experiences consumers desire and the business model which advertisers demand.

HbbTV, Hybrid Broadcast Broadband TV, and ATSC 3.0 are both standards which aim to take the broadcasting industry into the digital world. Although these standards are not necessarily harmonised, the IP approach effectively forces manufacturers and broadcasters into an era of on-demand content, interactive experiences and hyper-targeted advertising.

Over the last few years, many in the TMT world have been quick to write the obituaries for linear programming, but this is not an area which should be written off so abruptly. There is still a niche for the idea of linear TV, and if executed competently, there will be an audience of Generation Z sitting on the sofa next to the Baby Boomers.

Oliver Botti of the Fincons Group, pointed to two areas where linear TV currently, and will continue to, thrive. Firstly, live sports, and secondly, reality TV programming such as Celebrity Big Brother. With both of these standards, new content, experiences and advertising business models can be enabled to ensure continued relevance.

For sports, additional content can be offered to the consumer alongside the action to offer the viewer more control of their experience. This is something which is becoming increasingly common in the OTT world, though it is yet to genuinely penetrate traditional broadcasting in any meaningful way. The second example Botti highlighted is a very interesting one.

The concept of Celebrity Big Brother is not new to most. Dozens of cameras in a closed environment, following around the lives of prima donnas where at least one will probably make some sort of racist gaff at some point. However, with the new standards, Botti highlighted users can choose which camera is live on their own TV, creating a personalised content experience.

It does sound very creepy, but this is the sort of thing which is likely to appeal to some audiences…

Both of these examples are live content. For some, this experience can not be replicated in an on-demand environment, driving the continued relevance for linear TV. It is a niche, but one which will drive the relevance of traditional broadcasters and the relevance of linear programming for years to come.

Vincent Grivet, Chairman of the HbbTV Association, also highlighted the standards also allow for personalised advertising. This is just as, or perhaps more, important to the survival of traditional broadcasters as without the advertising dollars these businesses will not survive. Advertisers know what they want nowadays mainly because Silicon Valley can offer it. If hyper-targeted advertising is not an option, advertisers will not part with their valuable budgets.

What is worth noting, is that both of these standards rely on the TV manufacturers creating products which allow for success to continue. This is where an issue might arise; currently there is no global harmonisation.

HbbTV has been adopted in Europe, while ATSC 3.0 has been championed in the US and South Korea. China is doing what China does and going down its own separate path, creating a notable amount of fragmentation. This might be a challenge.

Richard Friedel, Executive VP of Technology & Broadcast Strategy of 21st Century Fox, told us that as an engineer he would like to see more harmonisation, but as a pragmatist, he doesn’t see it happening any time soon. All the standards are IP-based, therefore there will be a natural alignment as the industry evolves over the next couple of years, but this does not necessarily mean genuine harmonisation.

This presents a complication for the industry, but let’s not forget that this is a positive step in the right direction. Linear TV might not be attracting the headlines, but if you listen to the right people, it is certainly not dead.

IBC 2019: European Broadcasting Union joins FANG regulatory choir

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is the latest organization to start singing the praises of greater regulation, transparency and accessibility for the internet giants.

It is starting to become a tune to which we are all accustomed to, and it should come as little surprise the victims of aggressive disruption are calling for greater control, but the EBU has joined the regulatory choir at IBC 2019. Speaking during the conference, Noel Curran, Director General of the EBU, fired the shots across the Atlantic at Silicon Valley.

“Why is there no regulation in terms of data?” Curran stated. “Right now, we have an unregulated social media sector, being dominated by four or five big companies that have unprecedented amount of control.”

Again, this is a familiar story. Momentum has continued to gather behind the technology giants of Silicon Valley, compounding an already incredibly influential position. The broadcasters have been left behind, the telcos are attempting to drive relevance and the politicians are no-longer the most influential people in a country.

To add some context to the situation, one of the reasons ‘traditional’ broadcasters are in such a precarious position right now is a lack of evolution. This is an industry which progressed very little prior to the introduction of the streaming giants. Content might have changed, as has the technology to deliver said content, but the business models and engagement of consumers was stagnant.

The door was open for disruption, and if an industry doesn’t disrupt itself, troublemakers from the outside will do it.

Aside from the technology, the talent and the budgets, the FANG companies can harness the power of insight. As Curran points out above, these companies have a treasure trove of information the ‘traditional’ broadcasters can only dream of accessing. It not only allows the disruptors to create innovative business models through hyper-targeted advertising but enables them to make smarter decisions. FANG companies know their customers intrinsically, and it is fuelling growth.

This is another gripe from the ‘traditional’ broadcasting industry; the likes of Netflix and Amazon are not enthusiastic about sharing the wealth of insight. All3Media CEO Jane Turton confirmed what many of us already knew this week; the FANGs haven’t ever voluntarily or knowingly shared this valuable insight, and this is not changing.

This is the competitive edge Silicon Valley has. Sharing this data might encourage more of the ‘traditional’ broadcasting industry to sympathise with the FANGs, however why would they want to erode their advantage? It isn’t a level-playing field right now, though this is only because the FANGs are more forward-thinking and resourceful when it comes to the digital economy.

Perhaps this is something the ‘traditional’ broadcasting lobby will be pushing for in the future. Access to the data and regulation which forces FANG to play nice. The technology giants will of course resist, and we have already seen how powerful its own lobby can be, but the number of opponents is starting to add-up.

Disney+ to launch in November as streaming segment starts to look crowded

Disney has announced it will launch its video streaming service in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the Netherlands alongside the US in November, but how much appetite is there in the market?

This is the big question which the streaming world is facing; how many streaming services can be introduced before saturation point is reached in the profitable segment?

Alongside the likes of Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu, Now TV, YouTube, Fubo, Sling TV and several other niche services such as Nickelodeon and Fox News, Disney+, HBO Max and Apple TV will be fighting for the consumers attention. With so much fragmentation, you have to wonder whether the first-golden age for the streaming segment is coming to a close.

Today, Disney+ has given concrete plans for its launch, while Apple has been the subject of rumours. At Disney, the streaming service will debut in the US at the beginning of November, in Canada and the Netherlands on 12th November and in Australia and New Zealand on the 19th November.

Looking at the launch, Disney does seem to be ticking the right boxes in terms of content, it already owns an impressive library and has got some promising commitments to original titles, but you have to wonder about everything else.

Let start with experience. The likes of Hulu, Netflix and Prime Video have been honing their platforms for some time, and this could be one of the defining feature when it comes to winning the scrap for long-term subscribers. One of the attractive elements of OTT streaming services are the month-by-month commitment; customers can up and leave very quickly should they find issue with the service and getting them back will be tough.

Disney does not have any experience when it comes to creating or managing these platforms, whereas rivals have got years behind them. This could be a very important factor, especially when it comes to mobile.

Another challenge Disney will face, and we are surprised it hasn’t done more to address it on launch, is the brand awareness of the service. Fighting for eyeballs is a very expensive and tricky game to play, and while Disney has one of the most prominent brands on the planet, it has zero credibility when it comes to the delivery of digital content. Some might also question the breadth and depth of content which the library will contain.

This is why we are surprised Disney isn’t launching the service through local partnerships. Netflix and Amazon have already shown how powerful partnerships can be, embedding services in existing content aggregator platforms is an excellent way to win eyeballs and tempt subscriptions. This would have been an obvious route to take, leaning on the credibility and billing experience of a local partner, a telco for example.

That said, it is not too late. The service will be expanded to every major market by the end of the year, Disney claims, and there certainly are some multi-national telcos who could help generate exposure and credibility in some major markets. Vodafone or Deutsche Telekom could offer excellent exposure across Europe, as would Telefonica, as well as the LATAM markets. These partnerships could offer a direct, trusted and validated link to local consumers.

Another element to consider for the telco partnerships is the delivery of content over mobile. This is a different dynamic than the traditional means of viewing content, and few can offer the same expertise as the telcos. Mobile could be a significant tool for the armoury moving forward, and it will be interesting to see how the experience is received by consumers.

However, this does not address the wider issue which is lurking on the horizon; customer fragmentation.

When there were only two or three major services available, consumer wallets might have been able to tolerate numerous subscriptions. However, it is quickly getting to a point where choices will have to be made, as these services are not priced that cheaply anymore.

£6.99 or £10.99 isn’t realistically that much, however the quality of the services might decline. In years gone, these services were aggregators, but with the content owners clawing back titles off rival platforms, the libraries will get smaller. With Disney for example, all the Marvel content will be taken back, and with HBO’s service, titles like Friends will be removing from wider distribution.

What is worth noting is that original content could replace some of these titles, however, the pursuit of the next Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones is a perilous pursuit; not everything will be a winner, or appeal to a wide enough audience. There is a risk the quality of content could degrade as the streaming segment becomes more fragmented.

This is of course a negative view on the quality of content, the increased competition might welcome in a new era of quality programming. However, there are a lot of duds which are launched onto the unsuspecting world.

It is also worth noting that there is plenty of room for growth across the world. Markets like the US, UK or Germany might not present much greenfield growth for new subscribers, but there are still a few more hundred million in developed and developing markets to capture profits from.

Since Netflix changed the entertainment world with its streaming offering, hoovering up revenues, many have tried to replicate the success. You have to wonder how many services the segment can tolerate and remain the bountiful bonanza which many investors have been promised.

Third-parties are next battleground in video streaming war

Securing a partnership with the likes of Netflix and Amazon might be the golden-ticket for the telcos, but no-one should forget they have as much negotiating power as the OTTs.

For the telcos, convergence is an oasis of profit in the barren desert of the connectivity industry. As traditional means of generating cash are either destroyed (SMS and voice tariffs) or increasingly squeezed (CAPEX investments for 5G), many telcos are searching for differentiation to charge more and prove they can add value beyond the utilitised connectivity column. Content is a very popular route for many to take.

Aside from attempting to create content platforms, more telcos are seeking third-party relationships to move into the aggregator business model. This is a very sensible approach to business, the telcos can add a lot of value to the OTTs and securing a partnership with one of the more prominent streaming players is a key cog to their own ambitions. However, despite the desperation of the telcos, they should consider themselves on equal terms to the OTTs.

“Every telco is fighting to become an aggregator, but there is also a battle between the streaming OTTs to gain visibility,” said Paolo Pescatore of PP Foresight.

As Pescatore notes, outside of the two major players in the streaming world (Amazon Prime and Netflix), achieving visibility and scale can be very difficult. This is and will continue to be an incredibly congested field, therefore the relationship between telcos and OTTs could add an edge for any challenger.

Looking at the growth opportunities for the OTTs, there is plenty of cheddar left on the table, though in the developed markets, there are only crumbs left. Take the US for example, here Netflix subscriber growth has slowed, suggesting the glass ceiling for direct customer acquisition has been reached, or will be in the near future. The question is how these final customers can be engaged? Third-party relationships are key here.

At IBC last year, Maria Ferreras, VP of EMEA Business Development at Netflix highlighted that partnerships with telcos were an important cog as the streaming giant continues to evolve. At the time, the discussion was primarily from a billing relationship, though there are plenty of other opportunities.

Partners with their own content platform offer Netflix and Amazon something incredibly important; real-estate. Whoever can secure the most prominent position on the content platform will gain additional visibility and engagement with customers. It is evidence the OTTs are buying into the convergence strategies employed by the telcos, but also the value of the telco relationship with the customer.

Looking around the world, these partnerships are becoming much more common. Netflix has been embedded in the Sky platform in the UK, while Amazon Prime has been integrated into the Virgin Media platform. Mexico’s Totalplay has become the first operator in LATAM to add Amazon Prime to its TV service, while Vodafone Spain has secured partnerships with Netflix, HBO Spain and Amazon Prime.

There are of course numerous ways in which these partnerships can develop. Some are simply billing relationships, allowing the streaming service to be added onto the monthly bill, while some can have the OTT experience embedded into the content platform offered by the partner. What is clear, however, is this is an arms race from the OTTs.

The more partnerships which are in place, the more opportunity there is to engage potential customers and increase subscriptions. These partnerships are not only about securing visibility or accessing billing systems, but also leaning on another brands credibility to engage customers who wouldn’t have been previously accessible.

Interestingly enough, there aren’t many telcos or content providers who have relationships with more than one of the streaming giants. This might be a coincidence, or there might well be a desire from the OTTs to secure exclusivity through the platform of choice, even if it is not made official or public.

The challenge which many will face is going toe-to-toe with Amazon and Netflix. If these partners are securing the best relationships with the telcos, they will gain the most eyeballs on their services. Disney is company which will certainly want to lean on relationships with third-parties, but it will have to move sharpish to ensure it is not shut out.

Although Disney is one of the most prominent brands on the planet, it is almost unknown in the content world. This will present a challenge in two ways. Firstly, cutting through the background noise to educate the user on its offering, and secondly, the billing relationship.

For both of these challenges, third-party relationships with telcos and content platform owners can help. A direct line of communication is already in place, visibility can be offered through apps, billing relationships already exist, and third-parties are looking for partners to help build bundling options.

If Disney is going to be successful in its pursuit of streaming fortunes, it will need more than engaging content. It already has the content, and the ambitions for original content creation do look promising. The challenges will be in terms of securing visibility and credibility in the eyes of the consumer.

Telcos should realise sooner rather than later that they are an equal partner to the OTTs in this context, as they are just as desperate to secure favourable partnerships as the telcos. This is the next battleground in the streaming race; partners mean prizes.

Maine gets tough on telcos over data economy

Maine Governor Janet Mills has signed new privacy rules into law, demanding more proactive engagement from broadband providers in the data-sharing economy.

While the rules are tightening up an area of the digital world which is under-appreciated at the moment, it will have its critics. The law itself is targeting those companies who delivering connectivity solutions to customers, the telcos, not the biggest culprits of data protection and privacy rights, the OTTs and app developers.

The rules are applicable to broadband providers in the state, both mobile and fixed, and force a more proactive approach in seeking consent. Telcos will now be compelled to seek affirmative consent from customers before being allowed to use, disclose, sell or permit access to customer personal information, except in a few circumstances.

As is on-trend with privacy rules, the ‘opt-out’ route, used by many to ensure the lazy and negligent are caught into the data net, has been ruled out.

There are also two clauses included in the legislation which block off any potential coercing behaviour from the telcos also:

  • Providers will not be allowed to refuse service to a customer who does not provide consent
  • Customers cannot be penalised or offered a discount based on that customer’s decision to provide or not provide consent

This is quite an interesting inclusion in the legislation. Other states, California for example, are building rules which will offer freedoms to those participating in the data-sharing economy if the spoils are shared with those providing the data (i.e. the customer), though the second clause removes the opportunity to offer financial incentives or penalties based on consent.

This is not to say rewards will not be offered however. There is wiggle room here, zero-rating offers on in-house services or third-party products for example, which does undermine the rules somewhat.

It is also worth noting that these rules only pertain to what the State deems as personal data. Telcos can continue to monetize data which is not considered personal without seeking affirmative consent, unless the customer has written to the telco to deny it this luxury. Personal data is deemed as the following categories:

  • Web browsing history
  • Application usage history
  • Geolocation
  • Financial
  • Health
  • Device identifiers
  • IP Address
  • Origin and destination of internet access service
  • Content of customer’s communications

What is worth noting is this is a solution to a problem, but perhaps not the problem which many were hoping would be addressed.

Firstly, the telcos are already heavily regulated, with some suggesting already too much so. There are areas which need to be tightened up, but this is not necessarily the problem child of the digital era. The second point is the issue which we are finding hard to look past; what about the OTTs, social media giants and app community?

The communications providers do need to be addressed, though the biggest gulf in regulation is concerning the OTTs and app developers. These are companies which are operating in a relative light-touch regulatory environment and benefiting considerably from it. There are also numerous examples of incidents which indicate they are not able to operate in such a regulatory landscape.

Although it is certainly a lot more challenging to put more constraints on these slippery digital gurus, these companies are perhaps the biggest problem with the data-sharing economy. Maine might grab the headlines here with new privacy rules, which are suitably strict in fairness, but the rule-makers seem to have completely overlooked the biggest problem.

These rules do not add any legislative or regulator restraints on the OTTs or app developers, therefore anyone who believes Maine is taking a notable step in addressing the challenges of the data-sharing economy is fooling themselves. This is a solution, but not to the question which many are asking.

Vodafone Germany tries to placate regulators via wholesale cable deal with Telefónica

Telefónica Deutschland will be able to sell services that run on the combined Vodafone and Unitymedia cable network in Germany, as a remedy measure taken by Vodafone to satisfy EU’s competition concern over its proposed acquisition of Liberty Global.

The two companies announced that they have entered into a definite “cable wholesale agreement” in Germany, whereby Telefónica Deutschland will offer its customers broadband services that use both the Vodafone fixed network and that of Unitymedia. The combined networks cover 23.7 million households and represent a significant upgrade to whatever Telefónica Deutschland customers are currently getting.

“The cable agreement will enable us to connect millions of additional households in Germany with high-speed internet in the future,” said Markus Haas, CEO of Telefónica Deutschland. “By adding fast cable connections, we now have access to an extensive infrastructure portfolio and can offer to even more O2 customers attractive broadband products – including internet-based TV with O2 TV – for better value for money.”

Vodafone’s plan to acquire Liberty Global in Germany (where it trades under the brand Unitymedia), the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania, has run into difficulty at the European Union, which raised competition concerns at the end of last year. The Commission was particularly worried that the combined business would deprive the consumers in Germany of access to high speed internet access, and the OTT services carried over it. Vodafone expressed its confidence that it would be able to satisfy the Commission’s demand. Opening its fixed internet access to its competitor is clearly one of the remedies. Also included in the remedy package Vodafone submitted to the Commission was its commitment to ensure sufficient capacity is available for OTT TV distribution.

“Our deal with Liberty Global is transformational in many ways. It is a significant step towards a Gigabit society, which will enable consumers & businesses to access the world of content & digital services at high speeds. It also creates a converged national challenger in four important European countries, bringing innovation & greater choice,” said Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group. “We are very pleased to announce today our cable wholesale access agreement with Telefonica DE, enabling them to bring faster broadband speeds to their customers and further enhancing infrastructure competition across Germany.”

Vodafone believed the remedial measures it put in place should sufficiently reassure the Commission that competitions will not suffer after its acquisition of Liberty Global. The company now expects the Commission to undertake market testing of the remedy package it submitted, and to give the greenlight to the acquisition deal covering the four countries by July 2019. It plans to complete the transaction by the end of July. The merger between Vodafone’s and Liberty Global’s operation in The Netherlands was approved by the EU in 2016.

Skint AT&T flogs its 10% of Hulu for $1.43 billion

Having dropped $85 billion on Time Warner AT&T needs to raise some cash sharpish and getting out of OTT TV company Hulu us a start.

Hulu is a private company that is roughly 60% owned by Disney, 30% by Comcast and 10% AT&T. The latter stake (9.5% to be precise) is being bought back by Hulu itself for $1.43 billion, valuing the whole company at $15 billion. Hulu will presumably apportion the stake such at Disney owns two thirds of the company and Comcast one third.

“We thank AT&T for their support and investment over the past two years and look forward to collaboration in the future,” said Hulu CEO Randy Freer. “WarnerMedia will remain a valued partner to Hulu for years to come as we offer customers the best of TV, live and on demand, all in one place.”

AT&T says it will use the case to pay down its debt pile a bit, but the ongoing relationship of its expensively acquired media business with OTT players like Hulu will remain a source of intrigue. Disney recently announced its own streaming service, as did Comcast’s NBCUniversal at the start of this year.

On top of that Apple is getting funny ideas, Netflix and Amazon continue to throw money at original content and you’ve got all the various on-demand versions of traditional broadcasters. They can’t all go it alone. So the aggregation of this proliferation of video on-demand is a critical issue. How long WarnerMedia will remain a valued partner of Hulu now that AT%T doesn’t own a piece of it remains to be seen.

Verizon strengthens commercial messaging platform

After providing call filtering features for free, Verizon is going to update its commercial messaging platform to better protect customers.

Verizon announced that an updated commercial messaging platform will be launched within a month to improve the protection of users. “This new platform will improve spam protections while continuing to enable commercial providers of SMS text messages capacity at scale,” the carrier said in a statement.

The platform refers to Verizon’s “application to person” (A2P) messaging service that businesses can use to engage directly with consumers, e.g. for promotion, customer service, or consumer survey. Verizon did not disclose more details on how the improved security features will work other than that the “new platform uses a full 10-digit telephone number to help you recognize who is texting you”. However we can expect that this would be the first implementation of the RCS based messaging service that Verizon announced at the end of last year. So far, Verizon has been using its own proprietary A2P messaging technology.

Despite that OTT messaging services like WhtasApp and WeChat are gaining popularity whereas mobile operators are losing values through SMS, largely due to the rich features these OTT services can offer. However, the more features are integrated in these services the more they are open to abuse, e.g. spams and phishing attacks, which drives consumers to place more trust in SMS and RCS (coming in messaging format). RCS is a “clean channel”, not tarnished by the privacy scandals committed by Facebook and co, or the over monetisation by others, said the software company Mavenir at the recent Mobile World Congress. Research shared by Mavenir showed 97% of SMS / RCS are opened within 3 minutes.

Verizon’s new announcement on the improved security for messaging came shortly after the carrier made some features of its Call Filter app free to its postpaid users at the end of March. Used to cost $2.99 per month, now users can have Spam Detection, Spam Filter, and Report Numbers for free, while additional features will still come at a price. Verizon is playing catch-up to T-Mobile and others that have already provided free spam protection. It can also be read as responding to a call from Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman, late year that demanded operators to “adopt a robust call authentication system to combat illegal caller ID spoofing and launch that system no later than next year [2019]”.

Verizon Call Filter free vs. paid