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Wait! Steve Jobs is the largest shareholder of Disney, right? How did the iPhone end up on AT&T?

Goofy Things Happening in Wireless

Friday, September 28, 2007

At our 17th Annual Wireless Dinner in March of last year, we presented Disney Mobile with the Andrew Seybold Choice Award for Most Innovative New Service by a Wireless Operator or MVNO. Now, Disney has announced that as of the end of the year it will be closing down its MVNO operation and looking for a network operator to work with for its portal and content.


Disney earned the Andrew Seybold Choice Award for its end-to-end, family-friendly, easy-to-use wireless service. I am sorry it could not stick it out, this is the second MVNO owned by Disney to bite the dust (the first was ESPN). Being an MVNO in today's market is a tough way to make a buck.


Now EarthLink has refused to invest more money into its Helio joint venture with Korea's SK Telecom, so SK Telecom put in an additional $270 million, even though Helio is expected to lose about $350 million this year. I wonder if Google and the others talking about bidding for 700-MHz spectrum and wholesaling it to others are paying attention.


MVNOs are, after all, wholesalers of airtime on existing networks. I remember being at a Sprint briefing where MVNOs were being discussed. One senior executive said that if a company wanted to be an MVNO, it had better be ready to invest between $350 and $400 million to make a go of it. Mobile ESPN quit after only $50 million, but it was doomed by network operators' family plans. How could Dad have an ESPN phone and the rest of the family have Verizon Wireless, AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint family plan phones?


I thought Disney Mobile would be successful because there are so many people who like Disney―I have even seen high-level executives wearing Mickey Mouse neckties and watches. I liked its portal concept where I could go to the portal and configure my family's phones and set them up the way, as a family, we wanted to use them. Sorry, Disney, not this time around. But Mobile ESPN ended up with a great deal with Verizon for content and I'm sure at least one network operator will be wooing Disney for its portal and customers.


Wait! Steve Jobs is the largest shareholder of Disney, right? How did the iPhone end up on AT&T? Could the iPhone have saved the Disney MVNO? Or could an Apple/Disney phone of some type have caught on? I guess we will never know.


Disney will find a home for its concept and content, of that I am sure. There are too many Disney fans around the world not to stay in the wireless business in one manner or another. At least I have a Disney phone for my phone museum. And I will await the next chapter―the Mouse is a survivor and won't be gone for long.


Andrew M. Seybold

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