Quad Play Is The Only Game In Town - Whither Vodafone And 3?

It's a good time to own a mobile phone network. In the midst of BT holding exclusive talks with EE over a GBP12.5bn purchase, along comes Sky with talk of a partnership with O2 at the same time that 3'w owner is in talks with Telefonica over buying the very same O2 network. An offer of GBP9bn is already rumoured to be on the table. Let's not also forget, Sky's partnership talks with O2 come just months after persistent rumours that Sky was a takeover target for Vodafone.

Clearly EE is at the top of the acquisition table right now because it has connected more British consumers to 4G than the other networks put together -- thanks in part, no doubt, to an early start to their 4G marketing efforts and the humorous ads fronted by Kevin "Buffer Face" Bacon, star of Footloose.

Interestingly, The Guardian is reporting that the talks between Sky and O2 are at a very early stage and are focussed on a partnership rather than an outright purchase. This is nothing new in the mobile phone industry, where brands such as Tesco frequently white-label a service provided by one of the networks. In fact, BT used to offer a mobile service to business customers via Vodafone's airwaves.

For O2, there appears to be a "win-win" situation of 3 buying it and the joint network becoming the largest in Britain, while if it partners with Sky, the resulting potential content bundling offers would be attractive to consumers who are eager to enjoy "Sky Go" content on the move. If they are not Sky subscribers, presumably a content bundle would make previously unavailable content open to them or they could be tempted to add a few extras to their mobile phone tariff.

In fact, that is what is undoubtedly happening here. As fixed-line telephone tariffs increasingly offer generous amounts of free calls each month and mobile contacts offer the same, typically with "all you can eat" data plans, the clever money is moving toward offering new levels of subscription with entertainment as the bait. EE already has a deal with Deezer and Vodafone with Spotify which are used to sell higher level accounts, above the basic premium of just voice and data. So, clearly, selling consumers the "quad play" of telephone, broadband, television and mobile is this year's big must-have.

Of course, there's little point selling this quad-play unless there is the baited hook of entertainment and hence you have BT with its sports rights buying EE and Sky with its huge list of sports, movie and drama rights being courted by Vodafone before moving on to hold talks itself with Vodafone archrival, O2.

Analysts are probably correct in saying that it doesn't have the money to buy O2 after the expense of unifying its European operations. But you just never know -- there could potentially be an equity deal there, although a partnership appears to be where the talks are exploring right now. 

If that happens, it could leave Vodafone and 3 out in the cold -- both jilted by O2 and neither in a position to launch a quad play service.

Whatever happens, the next few months are going to be fascinating as the piece of the quad play puzzle come together and winners and losers become apparent.

1 comment about "Quad Play Is The Only Game In Town - Whither Vodafone And 3?".
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  1. Alistair Kelman from Cachebox TV Ltd, January 22, 2015 at 9:48 a.m.

    Sean - One reason why quad play is becoming the driver is because there is a change in the make-up of the UK workforce. It used to be the case that mobile phones were provided to employees of major companies by their employers so there was a split between the home services and work services in who paid for the device. This is why SKY never bothered with quad play. Now with BYOD becoming the norm it is the case that quad play is the opportunity that it is. Employees pay for their own mobiles and get a rebate from their employer. The consequence of this change is that quad play is likely to become the new norm and it will be far harder to persuade people to change their suppliers in the UK because of fears regarding a lack of services during a switch from one supplier to another.

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