Verizon unveils mixed bag as media continues downward spiral

Verizon has released its third-quarter financials with the mobile business growing, broadband middling and media dropping.

Total revenues for the three-month period ending September 30 stood at $32.09 billion, a 0.9% increase year-on-year, though it has racked up $97.093 billion across 2019. As with previous quarters, there are positives to take away though the media business is still weighing heavy on the prospects of the group.

“Verizon continued its momentum in the third quarter by driving strong wireless volumes in both our Consumer and Business segments, while delivering solid financial results, highlighted by continued wireless service revenue growth, increased cash flow, and EPS growth,” said CEO Hans Vestberg.

As many would have imagined, little attention was given to the fragile media business. With each financial statement, the $5 billion bet on Yahoo’s media assets looks a little bit more like a waste of funds. Revenues in this business totalled $1.8 billion, down 2% percent year-on-year.

What was supposed to be the pursuit of alternative revenues in the ever-growing digital advertising segment is seemingly turning into nothing more than an Elephant’s Graveyard for assets in the digital economy. Aside from divesting interests in Flickr, Moviefone, MapQuest and Tumblr, Verizon is also reportedly on the search for a buyer for the Huffington Post. Perhaps executives have just had enough and are searching for a way to elegantly backtrack.

The failings of this business unit have been well-documented, so we do not want to invest too much time here, but Verizon was always going to fighting a losing battle. Winning a slice of the digital advertising profits requires out-of-the-box thinking, the ability to make money out of nothing. This is what Google, Amazon, Facebook and other innovative digital players can do.

But Verizon is not that type of business. It is a functional, engineering-focused, traditional beast. From a culture and risk-appetite perspective it was always going to struggle to compete with the lateral thinking Silicon Valley residents, and this is further evidence.

That said, when Verizon focuses on what it does best it can make money. The mobile business unit boasts of 193,000 retail postpaid net additions over the quarter and revenue growth of 2.6% year-on-year. Revenues for the broadband business are down year-on-year, but the number of Fios subscriptions are up 2.3%. It might not be as exciting to talk to investors about the world of connectivity compared to digital advertising, but it is what the company is very good at.

The team should of course attempt to secure new revenues to bolster the bottom line as the business of connectivity becomes increasingly commoditised but taking on the likes of Facebook and Google for digital advertising revenues always looked like too much of an ask.

Although this is a dampener for the Verizon business, there is more than a glimmer of hope around the corner; 5G.

There might be some questions regarding the coverage of its mmWave spectrum, but Verizon is making progress with 5G deployment. Alongside the financial results, the team also hit the go button for 5G in Dallas, Texas and Omaha, Nebraska. All of the launches are very limited from a coverage perspective, but momentum is gathering very quickly.

5G can form the catalyst for growth is the telcos force themselves through their own digital transformation. Let’s be clear, the telcos will not escape the utilitisation trends with 5G alone. The business needs to be transformed to offer new connectivity solutions to enterprise and consumer customers alike. Digital transformation is a more pressing concern for telcos than any other vertical.

But there is hope on the horizon. The lure of 5G contracts are proving to be tempting for consumers, which will help the bottom-line as data tariffs quickly surge towards unlimited as standard, and enterprise customers are enthusiastic about the connectivity euphoria. There are of course companies who want to steal the profits from the telcos, but the opportunity is still there.

US operators collaborate in one more effort to make people care about RCS

AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have created the Cross Carrier Messaging Initiative to push the Rich Communications Service standard on Android.

RCS is championed by the GSMA, which has been banging on about it for over a decade. It’s positioned as the heir apparent to SMS, offering all sorts of ‘rich communications’ such as images, group chat. That all would have been pretty handy when it was first proposed, but since then there have been countless OTT messaging apps launched, such as WhatsApp, which seem to provide at least everything RCS does. So it’s hard to see what the point of RCS is in this day and age.

The US operators clearly disagree, however, hence this announcement. It’s easy to see why operators, and therefore their lobby group, would want to promote a messaging standard that they have greater control over. But what is less obvious is the incentives smartphone users would have to switch to it. Presumably most would reflect on their current messaging app portfolio and conclude that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“People love text messaging for a reason,” said David Christopher, GM of AT&T Mobility. “Texting is trusted, reliable and readily available – which is why we’re using it to build the foundation of a simple, immersive messaging experience. This service will power new and innovative ways for customers to engage with each other and their favourite brands.”

“The CCMI will bring a consistent, engaging experience that makes it easy for consumers and businesses to interact in an environment they can trust,” said Michel Combes, CEO of Sprint. “As we have seen in Asia, messaging is poised to become the next significant digital platform. CCMI will make it easy for consumers to navigate their lives from a smartphone.”

“At the Un-carrier, customers drive everything we do, and that’s no different here,” said John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile. “Efforts like CCMI help move the entire industry forward so we can give customers more of what they want and roll out new messaging capabilities that work the same across providers and even across countries.”

“At Verizon, our customers depend on reliable text messaging to easily connect them to the people they care about most,” said Ronan Dunne, CEO of Verizon Consumer Group. “Yet, we can deliver even more working together as an industry. CCMI will create the foundation for an innovative digital platform that not only connects consumers with friends and family, but also offers a seamless experience for consumers to connect with businesses in a compelling and trusted environment.”

Here are the things the CCMI says RCS brings to the table:

  • Drive a robust business-to-consumer messaging ecosystem and accelerate the adoption of Rich Communications Services (RCS)
  • Enable an enhanced experience to privately send individual or group chats across carriers with high quality pictures and videos
  • Provide consumers with the ability to chat with their favourite brands, order a rideshare, pay bills or schedule appointments, and more
  • Create a single seamless, interoperable RCS experience across carriers, both in the U.S. and globally

Of these the B2B angle seems the most compelling. There is still a surprisingly vibrant business around automated application-to-person (A2P) messaging, which typically operators use to communicate with their customers. The switch to RCS would bring a lot more options to that business. And then there’s the fact that you don’t need to know whether someone has an OTT app installed in order to send that message, although it should be noted that Apple shows no sign of supporting it.

But there’s no getting around the fact that RCS is essentially a direct competitor to OTT messaging which, thanks to the inability of operators to act with any kind of urgency, now has a massive head start in the marketplace. Perhaps if more of them belatedly get their acts together as the US operators have they can start to build some momentum, but we’re not holding our breath.

Verizon banks on Disney for SVOD credibility

US operator Verizon has done a deal with Disney to offer its new Disney+ subscription video to its customers.

Rival AT&T has gone all in on video through its acquisition of Time Warner, which enables it to offer things like HBO Max to its loyal customers. Verizon has no offsetting video assets of its own and its digital content efforts in general seem to be struggling, so it’s compelled to look for partnerships if it wants to remain competitive.

So today we have the news that Verizon is the exclusive wireless carrier partner of Disney+ and will offer all 4G and 5G customers a year’s access to all those lovely cartoons and super hero movies, which includes Fios Home Internet and 5G Home Internet subscribers. Assuming Verizon customers attach some value to Disney+, this is effectively an $84 discount on their phone bill for a year.

“Giving Verizon customers an unprecedented offer and access to Disney+ on the platform of their choice is yet another example of our commitment to provide the best premium content available through key partnerships on behalf of our customers,” said Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg. “Our work with Disney extends beyond Disney+ as we bring the power of 5G Ultra Wideband technology to the entertainment industry through exciting initiatives with Disney Innovation Studios and in the parks.”

Vestberg may have been making a nod towards a few minor 5G announcements it had drip-fed over the past few days. You can read an excellent summary of them on Light Reading here, which is testament to the conscientiousness of its writers. Verizon also seems to be focusing its efforts on densely populated environments such as sports arenas.

While it remains highly debatable that operators will ever make significant profit from content, it does at lease serve as a good sweetener to current and prospective customers. Verizon couldn’t afford to lose too much ground to AT&T in this area after its Time Warner acquisition, so partnering with Disney makes sense. But Verizon’s negotiating position will have been weak so it has probably paid a heavy price to retain SVOD credibility.

Verizon thinking of flogging Huffington Post – report

US operator group Verizon is thinking of offloading the crown jewel in its media portfolio according to a report.

The FT has got the scoop on this one, having spoken to a couple of people who think they know what they’re talking about. They say Verizon has been chatting to potential acquirers in recent weeks, but that the talks are still at an early stage and no formal sale process has been launched, hence the anonymous source channel. The FT couldn’t get a useful comment out of Verizon.

There isn’t much more to the FT leak than that, with the rest of the piece spent on wondering whether shelling out billions of dollars for a bunch of aging internet properties was such a great idea in hindsight. Verizon dropped $4.4 billion on AOL, of which HuffPo was the biggest asset, back in 2015 and then went even further back with its internet time machine to spend a similar amount on Yahoo two years later.

The apparent thinking behind blowing 9 bil on digital media seemed to hinge on doing something clever with advertising and big data. Having a broad portfolio of consumer media would make Verizon a no-brainer for digital advertisers, apparently, but by the start of this year it had significantly written down the value of its media assets and was doing some serious streamlining.

While competitor AT&T also decided to diversify into media, it did so by buying the massive video assets of Time Warner. It’s remains to be seen whether that massive gamble will pay off, but it seems safe to say that Verizon’s decision to go for cheaper digital content hasn’t. There seems to be general consensus across the operator world that diversifying into content is the way forward but there is little evidence to support this hunch.

One of the problems is that they are not media companies and seem to take the media product – audience – for granted. Audiences only stay loyal to media if it keeps giving them differentiated, valuable content, but the tendency of acquirers is to save overhead by getting rid of writers and getting the remaining ones to churn out a higher volume of cheaper content. This is often catastrophic for audience numbers and hence the underlying business model.

Verizon seems to have assumed it could absorb the HuffPo audience into its greater media machine, but its traffic seems to be in decline. Another variable is its ‘progressive’ editorial voice, which risks relying on cheap to produce outrage click-bait. This is a very volatile source of traffic, which is probably quite indifferent about the source. It seems likely that these factors will have significantly contributed to Verizon falling out of love with HuffPo and it’s likely to make a massive loss on any eventual sale.

Verizon buys into alternative realities

Verizon has announced the acquisition of Jaunt XR, adding augmented and virtual reality smarts to its media division.

While few details about the deal have been unveiled, the deal will add an extra element to a division which has been under considerable pressure in recent months. The Verizon diversification efforts have proven to be less than fruitful to date, though this appears to be another example of throwing money at a disastrous situation.

“We are thrilled with Verizon’s acquisition of Jaunt’s technology,” said Mitzi Reaugh, CEO of Jaunt XR. “The Jaunt team has built leading-edge software and we are excited for its next chapter with Verizon.”

Jaunt XR will join the troubled media division of Verizon which has been under strain in recent months. The ambition was to create a competitor to Google and Facebook to secure a slice of the billions of dollars spent on digital advertising. On the surface it is a reasonable strategy, but like so many good ideas, the execution was somewhat wanting.

Since the acquisition of Yahoo, Verizon has had to deal with the after-effects of a monumental data breach, write off $4.6 billion of the money it spent on the transaction, spend big to secure a distribution deal with the NFL and cut 7% of its staff. The first few years of living the digital advertising dream has been nothing short of a nightmare.

Looking at the financials, during the last quarter the media division reported $1.8 billion in revenues. This was down 2.9% from the previous year and accounted for only 2% of the total revenues brought in across the group.

With Jaunt XR brought into the media family, new elements could be introduced to the portfolio. Details have not been offered just yet, though with VR, and more recently, AR expertise, there is an opportunity to create immersive, engaging content for the mobile-orientated aspects of the business.

This transaction will certainly add variety and depth to the services and products in the media portfolio, but soon enough you have to question whether Verizon is throwing good money after bad. This has not been a fruitful venture for the team thus far.

Verizon sues City of Rochester over 5G fees

US telco Verizon has filed a lawsuit against the City of Rochester, suggesting a newly created telecommunications code violates federal law and the maximum fees telcos can be charged.

Filed in the District Court for Western New York, Verizon’s lawyers will be attempting to argue that the implementation of the new telecommunications code by the city will prohibit the rollout of 5G technologies in the area. This is of course early days, though it could go some way in creating legal precedent throughout the US.

Using FCC rules which were passed last September, Verizon will argue the newly adopted telecommunications code in the City of Rochester violates the maximum fee of $270 a year which can be charged by the local governments. Although we were unable to figure out how much each site could cost Verizon annually, it does appear to run into the thousands.

“To better serve its customers and the City and to begin to serve new customers and provide new services, Verizon Wireless seeks to extend, densify, and upgrade its wireless network infrastructure, including to install additional Small Wireless Facilities to support the provision of current and next-generation telecommunications services such as 5G and to deploy fiber to connect these facilities,” the filing states.

“To successfully do this, Verizon Wireless requires new approvals from Defendant to access City property.

“As a result of Defendant’s actions, Verizon Wireless has been, and will continue to be, damaged and irreparably harmed absent the relief requested herein. The harm caused by Defendant’s unlawful actions includes, but is not limited to, an effective prohibition on Verizon Wireless’s ability to provide telecommunications services in the affected area of the City.”

Similar to regulatory changes in the UK with the new Electronic Communications Code, the FCC is attempting to protect the interests of the telcos. As real-estate owners know the telcos have no choice but to increase the number of cell sites to provide the promised 5G experience to consumers, they are in a position of power. The new rules from the FCC, and the creation of the $270 annual limit, is supposed to create a responsible transaction which benefits both parties.

However, it does not appear the City of Rochester agrees with the position of the FCC. In creating its own telecommunications code, it does appear higher fees can be charged for cell sites, while some officials state they are attempting to reduce potential clutter and eyesores created by the additional mobile infrastructure.

Looking at the timeline, Verizon wrote to city officials to ask for revisions to the code on January 10 and February 7, before the code was enacted on February 20 without any amendments, taking effect on April 1. Another letter was sent on April 15 questioning whether the code was compliant with federal law, with city officials finally responding on April 30 suggesting they were happy with the set-up. On July 30, the city officials demanded payment from the telco.

In short, Verizon is claiming the fees are acting as a prohibitor to the delivery of connectivity in the city, therefore federal law is being violated.

What is worth noting, that due to the focus on mmWave for the delivery of 5G services in the US, more cell sites will have to be deployed. This is unavoidable, as to deliver the higher speed promised by 5G, higher-frequency airwaves will have to be utilised. This does not appear to be a problem, however coverage distance will have to be sacrificed leading to the densification plans set-forward by the telcos.

Although this is the first lawsuit of this nature which has been brought to our attention, we suspect there are numerous other local governments attempting to sweat public assets to secure more funding. This is one of the first, but this might become quite a common lawsuit to read about over the coming months and years, as densification strategies gather momentum.

Verizon correcting the mistakes of yesteryear with Tumblr sale

There are good acquisitions and bad acquisitions, and then there was the prolonged saga with Verizon acquiring Yahoo’s media assets.

In 2017, Verizon decided it wanted to scrap with Google and Facebook to secure a slice of the lucrative online advertising bonanza. Its route to these riches was acquiring Yahoo’s media assets, an on-going saga was has led to little more than headaches for the telco. Now Verizon has announced it will get rid of one of the adopted problem children.

Financials of the deal have not been announced, though WordPress owner Automattic will acquire Tumblr.

“Tumblr is one of the Web’s most iconic brands,” said Automattic CEO Matt Mullenweg. “It is an essential venue to share new ideas, cultures and experiences, helping millions create and build communities around their shared interests. We are excited to add it to our lineup, which already includes WordPress.com, WooCommerce, Jetpack, Simplenote, Longreads, and more.”

Perhaps one of the biggest problems with Tumblr is figuring out what to do with it. In its own right, Tumblr is a very successful platform, home to 475 million blogs, though translating such potential is often a difficult task, requiring forward- and out-of-the-box thinking. Automattic looks to be a much more suited business to realise this ambition than the traditional telco.

“Tumblr is a marquee brand that has started movements, allowed for true identities to blossom and become home to many creative communities and fandoms,” said Verizon Media CEO Guru Gowrappan.

“We are proud of what the team has accomplished and are happy to have found the perfect partner in Automattic, whose expertise and track record will unlock new and exciting possibilities for Tumblr and its users.”

For Verizon, this is another chapter is a pretty miserable story so far. The entry into the media world started on shaky grounds with huge data leaks and hasn’t got much better. It does still own some very attractive titles, TechCrunch and Huffington Post for example, though in laying off 7% of staff last October as well as 15% of UK staff in January demonstrates the pain.

The telco has to make the media business work for it, it did make a $5 billion bet after all, but it has not been a simple quest to date.

We’ve hit the go button on 5G, now what?

If the years of sleepless nights and hype are actually going to mean anything, 5G has to deliver more than 4G possibly could, and right now it isn’t.

This might sound like an incredibly negative comment, but it is a realistic assessment of where the industry actually is today. Hitting the on button was simply the first phase, it delivers an enhanced 4G connectivity environment. The big question is what comes next.

“Is 5G a premium product?” Ovum’s Dario Talmesio asked at 5G World today. “Of course, it is a premium product. This is a step change to what we can experience on today’s products in 4G.

“At the moment, the monetization of 5G is similar to that of 4G. This is the most simplistic monetization model. But we won’t be able to do anything new until ‘real 5G’ emerges.”

This is where the big challenge for the industry is about to emerge. The first usecases are simplistic ones, building on the ‘bigger, badder, faster’ mentality of the telecommunications industry. It makes the ‘pipe’ bigger, allowing more data to flow through it, and faster, enabling faster download speeds.

An example of this enhanced connectivity model is over at Verizon. Speaking at the same event, Ronan Dunne, President of Verizon Wireless, pointed towards the increasingly worrying strain being placed on the network. 5G allows Verizon to meet these demands, reduce the strain on the network and increase profitability through technology efficiencies.

Another gain is on the convergence side of telecoms. In areas where Verizon does not have a fixed network, Dunne pointed towards the FWA alternative which 5G enables. Three UK is another company which is exploiting this product and there are numerous other telcos who are eyeing up FWA as a proposition to build bigger product portfolios.

Customers might be willing to pay for this incremental upgrade, but it doesn’t fix the bigger issue in the telco space; adding extra value, and therefore seeking new revenues.

This is not a new idea. One of the basic ambitions of 5G is to evolve the telco from a communications service provider to a digital service provider. But how are the telcos getting on in searching for pastures new?

As you can see from the slide below, it hasn’t been the most ambitious start.

INSERT PIC OF DARIO PRESENTATION

Although you can see there are ambitions to take advantage of newly emerging segments, these are areas which the telcos already operate in. Entertainment, media and smart cities will certainly add some weight to the telco cause, but they will have to venture further afield.

SK Telecom is one company which is pushing the boundaries of the acceptable norm, though this should not really come as a surprise considering the leadership position South Korea has crafted.

During his own presentation, Takki Yu confirmed SK Telecom is challenging itself to seek out new ideas and business cases.

“5G era has begun, let’s do anything which we can imagine,” said Yu. “That is the key message from SK Telecom.”

An interesting point made by Yu was about the mentality of SK Telecom. The team is aiming to bring anything which would be considered offline today into the mobile mix. It does sound very ‘blue-sky thinking’, but it is important to think about new ideas. Many telcos will claim they are doing this, though there is little evidence to support the PR plugs.

Looking at the POCs which SK Telecom is exploring, there is quite a bit of breadth. In partnership with the Sinclair Group, SKT is working towards 5G-based broadcasting services, it is investigating the potential of a 5G-hospital with Yonsei Severance, with WeWork it is working towards a 5G-smart office, with the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Center the team is exploring the next generation of smart factories and it has set-up a smart city in the Incheon Free Economic Zone.

As Ovum’s Dario Talmesio pointed out, the issue many telcos are facing is a lack of industry-specific knowledge. Creating these solutions for the verticals, and integrating them appropriately, cannot be done if the telcos remain as a silo. This is what the Asian telcos have been doing very well over the last few years; partnering with industry verticals. Unfortunately for the European telcos, they are playing catch-up here.

Right now, the world might be wowed by the incredible speeds which are being delivered through 5G networks, but the truth of the matter is that this will not last forever. The wow-factor will fade, and soon enough customers will realise it isn’t actually that innovative. Soon enough, the 3GPP will unveil Release 16 and ‘real’ 5G will emerge. This is where the telcos will have to be very attentive or risk being relegated to the role of connectivity partner.

No clear winners in the latest US spectrum auction

Millimetre Wave spectrum has been a polarised topic in the US, and now the results are in from the latest auctions, some interesting tales have emerged.

Two spectrum auctions have taken place so far this year in the US, with both results being announced at the same time. $2.7 billion might be a lot to add into the FCC coffers, but it is considerably short of the monstrous amount of cash which was spent ahead of the 3G and 4G connectivity euphoria. Considering the amount of attention which has been given to mmWave, some might have expected this auction to attract more attention.

Strictly speaking, mmWave spectrum should be considered way above what we are talking about here, though the industry seems to have adopted anything above 26 GHz. Here, the two auctions are dealing with assets in the 24 GHz and 28 GHz spectrum bands.

Telco 24 GHz licences Total spend 28 GHz licences Total spend
AT&T 831 $982,468,996 N/A N/A
T-Mobile 1,346 $803,212,025 865 $39,288,450
Starry 104 $48,462,700 N/A N/A
US Cellular 282 $126,567,813 408 $129,404,200
Windstream 116 $20,439,360 106 $6,170,990
Verizon 9 $15,255,000 1,066 $505,733,170

The list of companies who have actually won spectrum assets through the auction is quite extensive, many are regionalised, rural telcos. We’ve only included the big ones here, and some interesting also-rans.

Although there still has been a considerable amount of cash spent during the auction period, the results do seem to imply mmWave might not be as crucial as previously believed. These assets might well be able to transmit huge amounts of data, but shorter ranges in comparison to the low- and mid-band bands, and the risk of signals being easily blocked, perhaps have telco fearing to dig too deep into the pockets.

Starting with Verizon, the telco now owns 65% of the available assets in the 28-31 GHz band. Through this auction and previous acquisitions of XO and Straight Path, Verizon has worked up quite a holding, though considering how much it has been beating its chest in the mmWave debate, it is perhaps surprising it low-balled the 24 GHz auction. Here, the firm only owns 1% of the total assets available.

From T-Mobile US’ perspective, the firm has shored up its spectrum breadth. Previously, the firm had not owned any licenses in the mmWave bands and has been the most critical of the potential of the assets. Spending the most in total across the two auctions, it seems the team is attempting to cover all bases, adding to the 600 MHz assets it has accumulated and plans to launch 5G on later this year.

AT&T’s focus was exclusively on the 24 GHz auction, where it spent the most cash, building out its portfolio in the higher spectrum bands.

Sprint is perhaps the biggest omission from the list, not winning any licenses across the two auctions, though it has previously aired its own criticisms of the potential of mmWave. The firm has started its 5G rollout, primarily using its 2.5 GHz spectrum for the launch. Whether its anonymity in this auction is evidence of its confidence in the success of the T-Mobile US merger we’ll leave you to decide.

There is of course life beyond the four major providers, and there have been some interesting wins across both the auctions.

FWA start-up Starry is an interesting one, winning 104 licenses in the 24 GHz auction. At the Big 5G Event in Denver this year, Starry COO Alex Moulle-Berteaux suggested the business was able to operate at such low prices while scaling in new regions was down to making best use of unlicensed spectrum assets. Spending $48 million this time around suggests a slightly new approach to delivering connectivity for the start-up.

These licences are now owned by Starry in 51 Partial Economic Areas (PEA), suggesting the business could be on the verge of much more aggressive geographical expansion. Details of where in the US Starry has won are not available just yet, but soon enough there will be much more colour on the plans. The assets might be used to shore-up performance in existing markets, or fuel geographical expansion.

US Cellular is another interesting case from the auctions, spending more than $250 million on 690 licenses. The telco currently has a presence in 23 markets across the US, with more than six million subscribers. It certainly isn’t going to challenge on a nationwide scale, however, with a stronger presence in the mmWave segment it could prove to be a worthy pain in the side to the big four telcos.

Windstream is the final ‘also-ran’ which we want to look at here. Spending just over $25 million on 222 licenses across both of the auctions, the team appear to be targeting the emerging FWA segment in some of the regions which are often overlooked in the US.

The firm launched a fixed-wireless access to business customers several years ago, and more recently has added products for consumers. In states such as Nebraska and Iowa, Windstream has pointed out signals can travel further thanks to “fairly flat topology”, while the mmWave assets will help the firm achieve the higher speeds demanded by enterprise and consumers alike.

What is worth noting is this is not the end of the spectrum auction bonanza. Over the next couple of months, the hype will start building for a combined auction in the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz bands.

That said, at the moment, the mmWave euphoria is appearing to be somewhat of a let-down.