Verizon might have launched 5G, but new iPhone pulls subscribers

Verizon published Q3 results, beating market estimates on earnings and subscriber adds.

Verizon published Q3 results today, narrowly beating market expectations. On the wireless side, Verizon Wireless added 510,000 net postpaid smartphone subscribers, with the postpaid churn rate at 0.8%. The strong marketing activities following the launch of the new iPhone, including an offer of up to $750 off new models, has helped attract new subscribers. As an important operation landmark right at the end of Q3, Verizon launched fixed wireless access service on 5G in four cities, therefore could claim to be the first to offer 5G in the country.

“Verizon has posted a third quarter of strong operational and financial performance,” said CEO Hans Vestberg. “With the beginning of the 5G era in this fourth quarter, we expect that trend to continue. We are investing in networks, creating platforms to add value for customers and maintaining a focused, disciplined strategy. Verizon is best positioned to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the new game-changing generation of technology.”

On the broadband and TV side, Verizon’s Fios gained 54,000 new internet users, slower than the 66,000 it gained the same period last year, and lost 63,000 cable TV subscribers, faster than the 18,000 it lost last year, another indication that the cord-cutting trend shows no sign of abating.

Verizon Wireless continued to make the largest financial contribution. It generated $23 billion revenue (70.5% of group total) and brought in $11 billion EBITDA (90% of group total). The wireline business’ total revenues went down by 3.7% to $7.4 billion. The consumer side of the wireline business largely held at $3.1 billion (-2.1% year on year), with the corporate business dropped by over 5%.

On the group level, the total revenues of $32.6 billion, up 2.8% from last year, beating market expectation by $110 million, with non-GAAP earnings per share of $1.22, beating expectations by $0.03. GAAP EPS of $1.19 was right in line with market expectations.

Like most telecom operators, Verizon is a mature business that does not often disappoint but seldom excites. The management guidance pointed to low-to-mid single-digit percentage of full-year consolidated revenue growth and low single-digit percentage growth in EPS, which makes us pay some attention to another area of interest, Oath, the Media & IoT business mainly comprised of AOL and Yahoo.

If Verizon was to bank on this division to herald its future growth then it might be disappointed. Total revenues went down from $2 billion a year ago to $1.8 billion. More importantly, Verizon does not expect Oath to hit the $10 billion revenue target it set for the division earlier.

Verizon’s share price gained by 1.4% in pre-market trading.

Twitch is blocked by China’s Great Firewall

The Amazon-owned game streaming platform Twitch confirmed on Friday that it became inaccessible from China, the latest of a string of popular services banned from the world’s largest internet market.

That China has banned another internet site can hardly hit the headlines nowadays. On the contrary, often it is the clandestine or not so clandestine efforts from those blocked to re-enter China that are making the news. As a matter of fact, among the top 10 most visited websites based on the traffic data from the analytics company Alexa Internet (not the personal assistant from Amazon, but an Amazon subsidiary nonetheless), four are entirely blocked (Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter), one is partially blocked (Wikipedia), one is accessible (Yahoo), the rest are China-based.

The reason that the twist on Twitch has caught media attention is that it has suddenly gained popularity in the last month, not the least because e-sports were included in the recent Asian Games in Jakarta, a regional multi-sport event with the number of competing athletes next only to the Olympics. Following the Games, Twitch’s iOS app climbed to the 3rd position in Apple’s App Store in China, before it was quietly taken down, presumably another measure to comply with local regulations.

E-sports have been attracting stronger following in recent years, and special events have taken place in different parts of the world, where spectators would travel to follow the stars they have followed on platforms like Twitch. However the Asian Games was the first time e-sports were sharing the stage with other “real” sports.

China’s attitude towards e-sports, and the games industry in general is mixed. It is the world’s largest video game market, host to the world’s largest publisher (Tencent), and has a total number of video game players larger than the total population of the United States. But it also banned game consoles sales for a number of years, and its official media has also repeatedly underscored the “harm” video games can do to young people’s mental development. Despite the extensive coverage of the Asian Games, where China dominated the medal table, the state-owned China Central Television (innocuously abbreviated as “CCTV”) did not cover the e-sports section at all, leading to the sports channel’s chief producer alluding to this gap in his latest column (in Chinese).

“I can’t say I am surprised by the crack down on Twitch,” said Nitesh Patel, director of Wireless Media Strategies of the research firm Strategy Analytics. Live video streaming, including game steaming, has taken China by storm in recent years. Large amounts of money and time have been spent on following streaming stars. “The authorities are concerned about gaming addiction and, as a consequence, players like Tencent have implemented features to limit the time children spend playing addictive titles like Honor of Kings. The recent reported spike in use in Twitch may have caused some concern among authorities and they have moved to pull the plug before momentum continued,” added Patel.

Likely to benefit from the ban will be local game streaming platforms, for instance Douyu, Huya, Panda TV, similar to WeChat benefiting from the ban on WhatsApp, Badu on the ban of Google in the past.

Softbank and Yahoo team up to crack mobile money in Japan

Softbank and Yahoo Japan have announced the formation of a new joint venture, PayPay, to launch a QR-based smartphone payment services in Japan by November.

The joint venture will lean on the experience of Paytm, India’s largest digital payment brand and a SoftBank Vision Fund portfolio company, for technology and expertise in mobile payments in the latest efforts to move Japan away from a cash-based society. As it stands, less than 20% of payments across the country are cashless, one of the lowest worldwide for a ‘developed’ economy.

“The Japanese government is taking measures to raise the cashless payment ratio to 40% by 2025, with a long-term goal of 80%, the highest level globally,” Softbank said in a statement. “To aid these efforts, SoftBank and Yahoo Japan established PayPay Corporation in June 2018 and will launch its user-oriented payments platform in the fall 2018.”

With the experience of Paytm, the brand has 300 million customers and 8 million merchants, combined with the presence of SoftBank and Yahoo Japan, the PayPay business certainly has a promising to start to disruption. The Yahoo! Wallet which has approximately 40 million accounts, will act as the foundation, with Softbank leading the sales strategy, while also developing a localised service leveraging Paytm’s technology. Once the new service has been launched, Yahoo Wallet will cease to exist, though a time-frame has not been laid out.

While the adoption of this technology is far from given, the venture does demonstrate the power of the Softbank ecosystem. While it might have looked like a side-project to keep billionaire CEO Masayoshi Son busy, the Softbank Vision Fund offers a wealth of technology expertise for family members to lean on and launch new services. Of course, Vision Fund employees will be looking to find investments which will make money in the long-run, but complementary businesses and technology to aid the progression of current new services would certainly play some role in the decision making.

Verizon spends billions on NFL rights to give Oath a boost

US telco Verizon has announced a new deal with the NFL – i.e. American Football league – to distribute games across its digital media network.

This appears to be an attempt to answer the oft-asked question: “What’s the point of dropping billions of dollars on a couple of internet dinosaurs?” Verizon, in its infinite wisdom, has focused its diversification efforts on the acquisition of AOL and Yahoo, which were kind of a big deal 20 years ago. It decided to call the digital media formed from them Oath earlier this year and has now decided to give it an injection of premium content.

“We’re making a commitment to fans for Verizon’s family of media properties to become the mobile destination for live sports,” said Lowell McAdam, Chairman and CEO of Verizon. “The NFL is a great partner for us and we are excited to take its premier content across a massive mobile scale so viewers can enjoy live football and other original NFL content where and how they want it. We believe that partnerships like this are a win for fans, but also for partners and advertisers looking for a mobile-first experience.”

“Verizon has been a key NFL partner, both in the distribution of games on NFL mobile and as a sponsor, since 2010 and we’re thrilled to be both extending and expanding our relationship with them,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “Our expanded partnership with Verizon is great for our fans.  Starting with the upcoming playoffs and for seasons to come, live NFL action directly on your mobile device – regardless of carrier – will give millions of fans additional ways to follow their favourite sport.”

As the quotes above touch upon, this deal marks the end of Verizon’s exclusivity, but it will now be able to offer the games to anyone via Yahoo sports and that sort of thing. They haven’t announced the numbers but reports have it between $1.5-2 billion for a five-year deal. At a time when the ROI of telco spending on premium content in coming under question this deal marks a distinct doubling down by Verizon.

Verizon now thinks all Yahoo accounts were affected by 2013 breach

Having finally completed its acquisition Verizon has been able to do a proper job of investigating the extent of the Yahoo data breach and the results are not good.

An announcement from its content division, which Verizon for some reason decided to call Oath, revealed that all of three billion Yahoo accounts in existence at the time of the 2013 data theft were affected. Prior to its acquisition by Verizon Yahoo had insisted that a maximum of one billion accounts had been affected, so that’s quite a bit difference.

It looks like Verizon brought in some third party cyber security and forensics experts, something it would have been reasonable to expect Yahoo to do prior to the acquisition, and they helped it come to this bleak conclusion. The company insists this is not a new security issue as password and financial information was not stolen, but the additional two billion accounts affected could be forgiven for taking these reassurances with a pinch of salt.

“Verizon is committed to the highest standards of accountability and transparency, and we proactively work to ensure the safety and security of our users and networks in an evolving landscape of online threats,” said Chandra McMahon, Chief Information Security Officer at Verizon. “Our investment in Yahoo is allowing that team to continue to take significant steps to enhance their security, as well as benefit from Verizon’s experience and resources.”

This leads us to question, once more, why Verizon didn’t just bail on the deal when it was clear how badly the breach had been managed by Yahoo, or at least get a much bigger reduction on the price. Not only might Verizon now be liable for compensation and/or legal recrimination, but it’s Oath division has taken a publicity hit almost as severe as the name itself. Surely whatever underlying value Yahoo might provide isn’t worth all this hassle and expense.