Vodafone Enters The Race For Big-Screen Attention

Interesting times lie ahead for the mobile phone, entertainment and television set-top-box industries as Vodafone courts Blinkbox and BT seeks to buy back O2. If the BT purchase goes through, Vodafone's old foe of a mobile-network-owning BT will be back in play -- but this time, it's a BT that has multiple sporting rights, sports television channels, and through BT Vision, a key set-top-box retailer and partner with the main terrestrial channels through the YouView consortium.

Similarly, EE has launched a set-top box to bring its range of data services to the living room, including its Mobile TV, Deezer music streaming service and Film Store. 

Vodafone is clearly waking up and smelling the proverbial coffee. It has deals to add Spotify and sports content to its 4G packages, but unlike BT, it doesn't operate a broadband network. And it does not have its own set-top boxes to connect customers to, even if it did. Hence, Vodafone is also believed to be in talks to potentially tick off all those boxes by buying Virgin Media in the UK. 

So on first sight, the rush for mobile phone operators might be most simply viewed as a means to put engaging content in front of cell phone subscribers to ensure that they opt for the largest 4G data plans. It might also be seen as a way of preventing churn at the same time as making other networks look attractive to prospects and existing customers alike. Both of these are almost certainly very obvious benefits of having content deals that allow a mobile network to offer music, film and television streaming. 

However, the end game would also appear to be crystal clear -- making those content deals subscribers have signed up viewable on the big screen in their living room. If the set-top box that makes that possible is owned by the same mobile phone network, then all the better, because it opens up a whole host of additional services and advertising opportunities. If Vodafone were to buy Blinkbox, for example, subscribers could be streaming the latest blockbuster with ad slots sold by their mobile phone network -- or at the very least, a film slot sponsored by a brand paying Vodafone for the attention of its customers.

I have blogged before about the importance of content and how the distributors who have made it huge in the past few years now need to focus on getting the right content on their platforms (often their own exclusive in-house productions) as well as pacifying the content creators whose output they license. The convergence of mobile phone services onto set-top boxes via multiple music, film, sports and entertainment deals is another facet of this fascinating development as the four mobile networks we entrust to keep data arriving on our small screens reach out to take that relationship onto the big screen in the living room.

In a way, it's like second-screening, only in reverse. The entertainment companies are trying to get us to take the big-screen attention we give them and direct it to the small screen in our hands to carry on the conversation, while the people who bring that second-screen data to our handheld devices are trying to project that attention back to the big screen, or at least the set-top box they have branded and are now -- or will soon be -- trying to get us to watch our big-screen entertainment through.

So it's easy to think of mobile developments within their own media niche, but this is a multi-screen, multi-device, multiplatform digital world we're living in.

It's a time for predictions -- and here's one from me. If Vodafone doesn't have a set-top box on the market next year offering music, movie and entertainment streaming, I will eat my proverbial hat. Furthermore, you can consider it a fairly good bet it will be working on a way of supplying -- or at least branding -- the broadband connection which brings that data to both the small and large screen.

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