Comcast Launches Watchable: Can Web Video Help Save Cable TV?

Comcast - watchable-ipad-in-hand
Courtesy of Comcast Cable

Cable giant debuts service with 30 content partners, available on set-tops, apps and online

Americans are steadily watching less TV, with the decline particularly pronounced among teens and young adults who have grown up watching billions of YouTube videos. And cord-cutting storm clouds are already clapping thunder over the TV biz.

So what’s a mammoth cable TV operator to do to stay relevant?

Comcast has decided, 10 years after YouTube’s birth, to try its hand at bringing ad-supported, short-form digital video from Internet creators to tablets, phones, computers and TVs — an attempt to hedge its bets if pay TV implodes.

With the Watchable service, which launched Tuesday, Comcast has lined up 30 content partners who largely produce video for millennial audiences. Those include AwesomenessTV, Buzzfeed, Disney’s Maker Studios, Vice and Vox. (Comcast’s NBCUniversal recently plunked down $200 million into Buzzfeed and another $200 mil into Vox.) And unlike its cable TV service, Watchable is available online and mobile to anyone in the U.S., not just Comcast customers.

“A new class of online creators and producers is developing innovative content that is attracting big audiences,” said Sam Schwartz, Comcast Cable’s chief business development officer, in a blog post announcing the launch.

Why would anyone choose to go through the Watchable middleman, instead of simply watching on YouTube or directly from, say, Tastemade’s own sites and apps? Comcast isn’t looking to license exclusive or original content — the way, say, Vessel and Verizon’s soon-to-launch Go90 are.

Comcast does have a large installed base of 22-plus million TV subscribers, and Schwartz notes that “many of our Watchable partners have not traditionally had distribution on the TV, and we can give them a path to reach new audiences and further monetize their content on the biggest screen in the home.”

But those TV subscribers are accustomed to, well, TV. Whether they’ll really have an ongoing urge to watch shorter, made-for-digital material through Comcast’s Watchable funnel is not at all obvious. Meanwhile, the value-added lure for non-Comcast users is supposedly that they can browse a collection of professionally produced content that’s been aggregated and organized by category or playlist. The question is whether there’s enough there to produce a big and active viewer base to make advertising on Watchable a workable proposition.

Now, for the sake of argument, consider a different scenario: If Watchable became a roaring success, that would siphon viewers away from the likes of, say, TBS, MTV or Travel Channel. Lower ratings on those networks would put more pressure on the media conglomerates that own the bulk of the pay-TV ecosystem’s ad-supported channels, and potentially fuel the move to skinnier traditional bundles.

For the time being, Comcast is characterizing the Watchable rollout as a test: “As the video industry continues to evolve, Comcast will continue to experiment,” Schwartz said. “We’ll continue to make investments in new media, create different ways for people to watch the movies and shows they love and test offerings that have the potential to attract new audiences.”

Initially, the service will be available on Watchable.com, Apple iOS devices and on TV via Comcast’s X1 set-tops.

For content creators, throwing in with Comcast on Watchable is a no-brainer. The operator is said to be offering a 70% share of Watchable video-ad revenue, far bigger than the 45% revshare from YouTube and Facebook. If it works, it’s all upside. And if it doesn’t attract an audience? No harm done, really.

Here’s the full laundry list of Comcast’s Watchable launch partners: AwesomenessTV, Buzzfeed, CelebTV, Collective Digital Studio, Defy Media, Discovery Digital Networks, Fast Company, Flama, Future Today, GarageMonkey, GoPro, Jukin Media, Machinima, Maker Studios, Mashable, Mic Media, NBCUniversal, Network A, Newsy, The Onion, PopSugar, Red Bull, Refinery29, Scripps Networks Interactive, Tastemade, TEN, TYT Network, Vice, Video Detective and Vox.

According to Comcast, Watchable will include digital shows from Vice, Discovery’s DNews, The Young Turks, Tastemade’s “Day of Gluttony,” and Defy Media’s Smosh and Clevver will be available via the Internet on the same video platform as live news and sports.

The Watchable content is organized into categories like Auto, Entertainment, Fashion & Style, Food & Travel, Funny, Gaming, Music, News, Science & Technology, and Sports. Over time, Comcast plans to sign additional content partners, add personalization features and include new options for users to share content with friends, according to Schwartz.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 6

Leave a Reply

6 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Bruno says:

    Here’s the problem with Comcast’s Watchable — cable TV has become unwatchable due to the volume of ads. I expect more of the same from a company that stifles innovation and values profit above all else.

  2. nerdrage says:

    This is Comcast’s attempt to save its bacon when the ad dollars dry up completely because everyone under the age of 30 has abandoned cable. In the future, we’ll have two choices, Netflix style (subscription, no ads, content for grownups) and YouTube style (free, ad-supported, content aimed at under-30 plus cat videos). Everyone is sorting themselves into one or the other in anticipation of the collapse of broadcast followed by cable. Hulu can’t figure out where they fit.

  3. Eric says:

    Comcast is the worst! Their sales reps..I mean customer service reps are unprofessional, they can’t compete with Netflix or Hulu by charging $100+/month versus $10/month, and they use underhanded tactics to confuse customers and ultimately squeeze more money out. They have an obsolete business model that is too little too late to offer what customer’s ultimately want: affordable entertainment.

  4. RickFromTexas says:

    Can web video help save Comcast? No, Comcast is one of the most hated companies in America, and for a lot of very good reasons.

  5. Frankie says:

    Two things to keep in mind when dealing with Comcast. Be prepared to get gouged in any; any, dealings you have with Comcast. That’s one.
    Two: Don’t sign up for autopay with Comcast unless you check your bills regularly as after a short period the bills will start going up monthly and by plenty.

  6. rick says:

    Another excuse for comcast to raise prices…

More Digital News from Variety

Loading