Comcast and Charter announced this morning that they have struck a deal to avoid mergers or acquisitions in the wireless space unless both sides agree to the move. Both companies are planning to launch wireless offerings, piggybacking off Verizon’s infrastructure to act as a “mobile virtual network operator,” or MVNO. Left unsaid was the possibility that this duo might look to acquire or combine with T-Mobile or Sprint to create a company that can offer cable television alongside broadband and wireless internet.
So why are cable companies suddenly interested in being wireless providers? There are a couple of answers to this question. First, the coming of 5G wireless is tying the two technologies together. MoffettNathanson Research offered this compelling breakdown:
At the same time, the business of paid television is showing signs of serious weakness. This last quarter was one of the worst in the history of the industry, with significant drops in ratings and subscribers across almost all the major cable networks. That, in turn, is putting downward pressure on the rates these broadcasters can charge advertisers. As marketers shift their money to digital programming, giants like Comcast and Charter are eager to position themselves closer to mobile customers, a move that would provide them valuable data on consumer behavior.
Adding another wrinkle to this equation, tech companies like YouTube, Amazon, and Apple are all increasing their investment in original programming. For companies like Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal and is an investor in Verge parent Vox Media, that means more competition. Exploiting ownership of the network to ensure consumers see your content on their home screen or can stream your videos for free while others consume data, is a powerful motivation for cable giants to move into wireless.