The TelcoTV Conference, which concluded last week, had its fair share of three screen convergence discussion. The idea of delivering a converged and integrated video/entertainment experience to the TV, PC, and mobile device is all the rage right now. But I walked away thinking, that at least in the U.S., three screen convergence still remains a dream, except to AT&T and Verizon. Those two seem to be the only companies in the U.S. with a legitimate shot for achieving its promise. They intend on leveraging it as a differentiation strategy over cable and DBS competitors. But where does that leave everyone else? Are all other carriers left on the three screen sideline, while AT&T and Verizon battle soon to be wireless enabled Cox, Comcast, and other cable companies? Forget the digital divide, are we now confronted with the “convergence divide?” Admittedly, TelcoTV’s own panel, “The Realities of Convergence for Small Carriers” created more questions than answers. But that’s not from lack of effort. The panel’s outcome is illustrative of the marketplace reality – no clear convergence answers except for all but the largest of carriers. The remaining majority of telcoTV carriers lack the necessary ingredients – scale, a complementary wireless network, and deep enough pockets to pay for the complicated integration. Maybe the bigger question is, does anyone really care? Is this whole concept of content anywhere and on any device important to anyone but the marketers and analysts who promote it?
Let’s assume for a second, that it does “have some legs.” Seems to me, this is ripe territory for partnership. Why can’t Sprint and/or T-Mobile partner with the multitude of wireline IPTV carriers who are not AT&T or Verizon, and jointly develop and market a three screen converged product portfolio? Wouldn’t it make sense for all involved (assuming Sprint is interested, which they may not be, given their existing efforts with the cable industry)? The combined effort would allow Sprint/T-Mobile to more effectively compete with AT&T and Verizon’s three screen push. The same could be said for the existing smaller IPTV providers who will want to differentiate themselves from their video competitors (or maybe keep up with them). There is certainly enough overlap between Sprint/T-Mobile footprints and the IPTV operators who lack a wireless network. Unfortunately, partnering for wireless service has had mixed success. There are a few success stories out there, but most wireline carriers who are anxious to partner with wireless carriers find themselves looking for an elusive dancing partner. The MVNO model hasn’t quite panned out. Perhaps adding video to the mix will make up for the apparent lack of interest in developing wide scale win-win mobile wireless partnerships.
I realize I’m over simplifying the partnership process. The reality is it’s quite complicated and often messy. Adding video to the mix may not even be viable, given the system integration challenges among hundreds of different IPTV provider networks. The business model hasn’t historically been pretty either. There’s a reason why we haven’t seen a great model emerge, where wireline carriers who lack spectrum and a wireless network, partner with an existing wireless carrier to offer wireless services. And do so in a fashion where they can both make a little money at it, while maintaining respective ownership and control of the customer experience (although there are some promising partnerships on the horizon, including Crossroads Wireless). It’s one of those things that make perfect logical sense on paper, but reality proves otherwise. It’s not an encouraging picture for three screen convergence evangelists.