T-Mobile said Tuesday that video from Netflix, HBO Go, HBO Now, Hulu, Sling TV, ESPN, Showtime, Vevo, and many more content providers won't count against your data plan. Essentially, if it's on a platform T-Mobile has partnered with, you won't be charged for it.
"It's free, the providers don't pay, the customer doesn't pay, and you can shut it off," said John Legere, T-Mobile's outspoken CEO, at the company's "Uncarrier X" event on Tuesday in Los Angeles.
The program, called Binge On, includes 24 partners at launch with more to come, and is aimed squarely, according to Legere, at "millennials." "These aren't cord-cutters, they're cord-nevers," he said. "Today is Data Day. D-Day."
Binge On is not a completely new model — telecom companies in Europe stream content under data-free agreements, and companies like Facebook subsidize data usage in developing markets — but it's a major move for an American data provider. It's also the kind of step that usually forces other companies' hands. With a move like this, T-Mobile could force its competition to follow.
But Binge On is also likely to be contentious. Prioritizing, or "zero-rating," one company's service over another's as a means of wooing new customers and retaining current ones can stifle competition and innovation. It can even snuff out smaller players who don't have the money or prowess to negotiate similar deals to reach consumers.
Legere made a point of including Go90 — Verizon's content app — in Binge On, "just because we can." In fact, Legere — who took the stage to a bouncy, synth-filled EDM track, clutching a sugar-free Red Bull, and claimed to have "passed that shit up," referring to a job as an AT&T executive — peppered his presentation with direct insults to competitors Verizon and AT&T.
Legere is about as outspoken as executives come, and the announcement today — broadcast on Ustream — came with the disclaimer that it would include "some expletives, so earmuffs if you're young," as well as the promise of an "industry-rattling announcement." It's a performative edginess that is occasionall- to-often cheesy — the event opened with dramatic music and a "previously on 'Uncarrier...'" narration — but does translate to a product that is genuinely different from anything else on offer.
If nothing else, expect to see more people streaming Master of None on their morning commute.
Brendan Klinkenberg is a tech reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Brendan Klinkenberg at email@example.com.
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