T-Mobile to shut down streaming service TVision

T-Mobile is abandoning its streaming television service TVision nearly six months after it started.

In a press release published on Monday, T-Mobile said it would close down the streaming TV service by the end of April. As part of the move, it is pushing customers to subscribe to YouTube TV and Philo.

“This shift may surprise some given last year’s TVision streaming services launch, but innovation follows a straight line,” a T-Mobile official wrote in the press release. “Since launching the TVision initiative, we’ve learned a lot about the TV industry, about streaming products, and of course, about TV customers. We also saw trends that made us take a fresh look at how to best do in video what we always do: put customers first.”

T-Mobile indicated financial problems with its back-end software provider, Mobi TV, were partially to blame for the decision to shut down TVision. But TVision was marred in controversy from nearly the moment it started.

Last October, T-Mobile executives launched TVision to much fanfare, promising it would shake up the cable and satellite industry with low-cost packages that were accessible beyond the cable or satellite box.

The way T-Mobile saw it, the company launched two distinct streaming TV products under the TVision brand: TVision Vibe, a $10 a month service with general entertainment and lifestyle channels, and TVision Live, a more-expensive package with local broadcast, news, sports and top-tier channels starting at $40 a month. Customers could take TVision Vibe or TVision Live separately, or they could combine them into the ultimate, low-cost package.

That move rankled executives at several media companies who quickly accused T-Mobile of misleading them over their plans for TVision.

“We were very surprised with how T-Mobile decided that they were going to bundle our networks, particularly because we have a clear agreement where our networks are required to be carried on all their basic tiers [streaming] offerings,” David Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery Networks, said in a conference call with investors in November.

Discovery was not alone in its criticism — others, including ViacomCBS and Comcast, expressed similar disdain over how T-Mobile offered TVision to its wireless phone subscribers. But Discovery brought the most heat: Executives were mulling the possibility of litigation when T-Mobile eventually relented and placed the TVision Vibe channels into the base TVision Live package at no additional cost to subscribers.

Now, T-Mobile is putting its experiment to bed after finding out that the pay television industry is difficult to challenge.

“Our experience has shown us consumers need an advocate in this space,” a T-Mobile executive wrote. “They don’t want more streaming services – they want help buying and navigating the services that already exist. And they want exclusive deals and special access.”

T-Mobile customer who switch from TVision Live to YouTube TV will get more channels, an unlimited -month cloud DVR and other perks for $55 a month after a 30-day free trial, a $10 a month discount from YouTube TV’s standard rate of $65 a month. The discount is guaranteed for one year by fine print on the offer, after which the subscription price of YouTube TV may revert to the regular $65 a month fee.

(Update: Shortly after this story was published, a T-Mobile spokesperson clarified that the discounted rate is locked in for the life of a customer’s account, as long as they maintained an eligible plan, and that the company intends to send promotional codes to customers on a regular basis so they can continue to enjoy the discount.)

Meanwhile, TVision Vibe customers are being pushed toward Philo, a $20 a month service that offers nearly double the number of channels compared to TVision Vibe as well as an unlimited, 30-day cloud DVR. Customers who switch will get Philo for $10 through the life of their T-Mobile service agreement.

T-Mobile’s post-paid customers can also take advantage of the $10-a-month Philo subscription, but the discount is only good for 12 months.  (Update: Again, after this story was published, a T-Mobile representative clarified that the discount was locked in for the life of a customer’s account, as long as they maintained an eligible plan, and that the company intends to send promotional codes to customers on a regular basis that would allow them to continue to enjoy the discount. When asked why an expiration language was in the fine print of their press release, the spokesperson clarified that current promotional codes being sent to customers needed to have an expiration date.)