Verizon Tackles Telco TV

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If you think Verizon Communications Inc. is bluffing about its re-entry into video, don’t be delusional.

The regional Bell operating company is busily upgrading plant all over the country — and soon in my very neighborhood — to offer FiOS Television, a fiber-delivered video service, bundled with voice, data and soon, wireless.

Aiding and abetting Verizon are a dozen or so former cable executives who drank the telco Kool-Aid and apparently liked what they tasted, because they all jumped on board for the adventure.

Among those executives is former MSO Insight Communications Co. vice president of programming Terry Denson, who has now been toiling at Verizon as FiOS’s vice president of marketing and programming for the past seven months.

And Denson has been racking up the frequent-flyer miles, traveling to sign on programmers eager to add new subscribers in a world where they’re largely fully distributed on both cable and satellite.

Is this wacky, or is it a smart competitive move by Verizon? On the video side, cable and satellite have pretty much captured the vast market of television users willing to pay for the pleasure of watching the medium.

Some might say Verizon is as crazy as Cablevision Systems Corp. chairman Chuck Dolan, who’s still trying to offer a third satellite service — an idea his own board did not back.

Denson argues that Verizon has to upgrade its plant, so why not throw a video offering into its bundle of services? For now, cable can rest easy in that Verizon will initially only be offering a triple play of video, voice and data.

But here’s what’s interesting: Verizon could beat cable to the punch by offering a quadruple play, adding wireless to the bundle before cable figures out how to do it.

Those discussions about a wireless offering in the bundle are already underway at Verizon, says Denson, who is working with the telco’s other operating units to be able to provide programmers a wireless platform for short-form or “mobisode” programming.

That’s a new genre that’s fascinating to a lot of programmers I’ve talked to. That’s because it allows them to add another venue to expand their own base of offerings. Mobisodes have taken off big-time in Japan and Europe.

Of course, every cable MSO is also looking to provide a similar wireless platform, but for now, at least, it looks likely that Verizon’s in the lead on that front.

But can Verizon really succeed in a multichannel video world, building from a base of zero? We’ll soon find out: Verizon will light up two systems in Texas and California and roll out another dozen or so markets by year-end.

See for yourself what Denson has to say about this and the regulatory issues that face Verizon. My This Week in Cable interview with him can be seen at Trust me. It’s an eye-opener.