After months of speculation BT has decided to keep the EE brand, leaving those journalists (including me), commentators and analysts expecting the firm to rebadge its newly acquired mobile network and 600 high street stores to help cross-sell its broadband, TV and sports services looking a little bit daft.
For EE customers dreading the prospect of being subjected to BT’s legendarily poor customer service this news provides some much needed reassurance that they’re not about to find it harder to get help or pay their bills.
But the decision to retain the EE brand raises some interesting questions about the future development of EE’s TV platform and the recently launched BT Mobile service:
With the acquisition of EE BT now owns four separate TV services which between them use three wholly incompatible set top boxes and offer differing sets of content.
The boxes used by EE TV have a few nice features like the ability to stream recordings to tablets but lack some of the functionality of the YouView set top boxes powering BT TV and the BT-owned Plusnet’s TV platform.
Alongside these are the legacy BT Vision+ boxes, many of which are still in operation.
EE TV customers cannot access BT Sport, Netflix or BT’s exclusive AMC channel but do get access to the full NOW TV offering, allowing them to watch channels such as Sky Atlantic.
Plusnet’s users on the other hand can watch BT Sport (excluding BT Sport Ultra HD) and Netflix on their YouView set top boxes but not AMC and are restricted to a movies-only version of NOW TV.
This restriction also applies to BT TV customers with YouView boxes who do get AMC, BT Sport, BT Sport Ultra HD (assuming they have a compatible box) and Netflix.
But those with an older BT Vision+ box can’t access Netflix or NOW TV in any form, although they can, unlike those on newer boxes, get Sky Sports 5.
At group level BT now has possibly the most complicated and tangled set of TV platforms and rights deals in the world.
Launched last March, BT Mobile is a fairly bare-bones service – unlike EE it doesn’t offer WiFi calling which allows users to make calls in poor signal areas via WiFi, doesn’t include access to WiFi on the London Underground, doesn’t allow tethering and iPhone and other smart phone users can’t access Visual Voicemail.
Many BT Mobile customers have been hoping that some or all of these features will become available but is this likely now that BT can nudge them towards higher priced EE tariffs?
What does the future hold?
Will BT Mobile customers need to move to an EE tariff to get more features? Can EE TV customers expect to watch BT Sport on their set top box any time soon?
If EE is going to continue offering a separately branded TV service you might think it’d make more sense to move it onto the same YouView boxes BT’s other two brands issue to new customers and so leverage more value from the ISP’s investment in the platform.
Will this be one of the ways BT delivers the savings it promised shareholders when seeking agreement to buy EE?
Will BT Mobile start offering handsets to customers looking for more than just a SIM-only plan? EE offers a range of own brand, low cost handsets and tablets, might some of these also start sporting the BT Mobile brand?
While it’s only a couple of days since BT took over EE the two companies have had months to plan and come up with answers to these questions but, for now at least, they’re not minded to share their plans.
Today’s announcements made no mention of how the competing EE and BT services would develop and no-one raised the issue during the firm’s investor call this morning.
With investors seemly disinterested in such questions, I asked the firm if it could offer any insight and in response a BT Spokesperson told me:
“EE customers will continue to get their products and services from EE in the same way they do today. The same goes for BT. As we further integrate EE into the BT family, we will of course be looking at opportunities to bring things together for our customers, where it makes sense.
“Initially, both companies will continue to offer distinctive and attractive offers to their existing customers. Over time we will look to produce special offers where we think we can add something for customers and offer them even better value.”