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Verizon's sky high 5G ambitions

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Verizon is betting its future on 5G, and executives tell Axios that includes a more aggressive push to focus its media brand Oath on building over-the-top (OTT) brands with a lot of live streaming content.

Why it matters: Oath chief Tim Armstrong is reportedly on his way out, raising questions about Verizon's media arm and the company's overall media ambitions.

  • For months, Armstrong pitched Oath's advertising potential as its focal point, but it has thus far failed to turn that business into a serious ad competitor to Google or Facebook.
  • The company argues it has made progress, and that it's taken some time for it to combine all of its assets under one roof. (Yesterday it finally rolled out an integrated ad stack called "Oath Ad Platforms.")
  • But Armstrong's exit, combined with Verizon's repeated denial of interest in buying a linear TV network and the sunsetting of its video platform go90 this year, makes some industry experts bearish on Verizon's commitment to its media business.

The other side: Verizon Wireless group president and EVP Ronan Dunne tells Axios that the rumor mill is missing the bigger picture.

  • He says Oath will provide fertile ground for the company to deliver immersive experiences through 5G, which will in turn help it drive engagement and bundle its services, as well as build custom brand experiences that it can sell as a business to consumer service.
  • Dunne says that RYOT, the entertainment studio within Oath, will soon be one of the first parts of Oath to reap the benefits by 5G, creating new forms of storytelling that can be distributed on the high-speed network.

Sources at Oath say that the company is now looking to push Oath brands to do more live-streamed OTT programming.

  • Last month, Axios reported that Yahoo Finance will be the first of its brands to create a full 8-hour day of live programming. Sources say that other brands are in the process of following suit.
  • The company is placing its live bet on sports, in particular, given the application opportunities for immersive technologies (driven by 5G connectivity) to be deployed alongside games through Yahoo Sports, one of its more successful media brands.

Thought bubble from Axios Managing Editor Kim Hart ... "Verizon has made 5g its huge bet, and it's looking for ways to differentiate itself from what has become a crowded field of 5G competitors including AT&T, which also has OTT ambitions with its new Time Warner content."

Programming note: I'll be interviewing Dunne this Thursday at Mobile World Congress in Los Angeles to talk about the latest on Verizon's 5G efforts, media moves and more. Email me to connect if you're there.