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Verizon Launches Free Go90 Video Service: Why It Might Not Connect

Verizon has pushed Go90 out of the nest: The telco launched its mobile video service to the public Thursday, a product engineered to be what Verizon execs think will become a kind of next-generation TV for smartphone-toting millennials.

Go90 is stocked with about 8,000 TV episodes and clips today, with more being added on a regular basis. The content lineup includes more than 35 exclusive original series, from partners include AwesomenessTV, Vice, New Form Digital and Endemol Beyond USA, and Verizon expects that to nearly double by year’s end.

But will it actually find an audience?

Some analysts are skeptical of Go90’s prospects. It’s not clear the initiative will “create value” for Verizon, Bernstein Research analyst Paul de Sa wrote in a research note Wednesday. “The company has been actively adding content meant to appeal to ‘millennials’ (e.g., original series created by YouTube personalities, Vice Media, AwesomenessTV) but it is unclear at what long-term cost,” he wrote.

Brian Angiolet, senior VP of consumer products for Verizon, said the company sees an unfulfilled opportunity to bridge the gap between premium subscription VOD services and full-blown pay-TV on the one hand, and the anything-goes landscape of YouTube.

“We’re somewhere along the spectrum between Netflix and YouTube,” Angiolet said.

To Verizon’s credit, it has paid up for actual TV shows – from partners including Discovery Communications, Scripps Networks Interactive, Viacom, ESPN, CBS Sports and Univision – such as “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and “MythBusters.” 

On the originals front, AwesomenessTV is producing a daily live show, “Top Five Live,” featuring YouTube creator Hunter March recapping online trending topics in front of a live studio audience. The show has guest appearances from stars both digital and mainstream. Michelle Phan’s Icon Network will deliver original programming to Go90, as will Vice and six scripted series from New Form Digital.

“The business case for us is really down the path of our broader ambitions in the media landscape,” Angiolet said. “Our definition of an over-the-top premium content offering is an ad-supported business model that also sits in the AOL acquisition.”

Go90, available for Apple iOS and Google Android devices, also includes potentially interesting social features. Those include allowing users to form “crews” with others who have common interests, and the ability to clip-and-share content segments.

One idea that was not on the table for Verizon was building an Internet pay-TV service, which was what Intel’s OnCue division was trying to do. Verizon acquired OnCue last year for about $200 million.

“We bought OnCue for the platform and the talent, but we did not buy it for the business model,” Angiolet said. “Taking linear content, the full multi-hundred-channel way it’s sold to distributors today, and take it over the top, is not what we were interested in. We don’t think customers want it.”

On the revenue front, Verizon and AOL struck a deal with Publicis Groupe, granting its agencies and clients exclusive advertising inventory on Go90 for three months beginning in the fourth quarter, extending it non-exclusively to Q3 2016.

Publicis “made a very large commitment to Go90,” said Chad Gallagher, AOL’s global head of mobile.

To Angiolet and other Verizon top brass, the opportunity is this: Millennials are watching less traditional TV and spending more time on their mobile devices – so the hypothesis is that putting a bunch of youth-skewing content in an app will work. Go90 may, at some future point, include a premium-priced tier.

But today it’s not clear if the Go90 mashup of disparate long- and short-form content will register with millennials, in order to provide a significant number of eyeballs for advertisers.

The video-consumption habits of many young consumers are already set, comprising visits to established destinations like YouTube, Netflix and Hulu, and it will take an awfully compelling user experience and amazing content to change that. Comcast has a similar challenge with the just-launch Watchable video service that spans TV, mobile and web.

Go90 is designed to be a free “cross-carrier product,” meaning it works with any wireless carrier, but there is some content available exclusively to Verizon Wireless customers. The most notable content is access to live NFL games; NFL Mobile has a channel on Go90, but the live streams are available only to Verizon customers.

There’s another Go90 benefit available only to Verizon Wireless subs: Those who register for Go90 will receive an additional 2-gigabyte monthly allotment to their data-usage plans for two months. And that raises the question of what Verizon’s real strategy is here: Is the telco trying to launch next-gen TV, or is it driving to drive up the amount of data people use on its wireless networks?

The answer, it seems, is both. But Angiolet insists Go90 is designed to deliver profitable growth in its own right, and that it’s not just a gambit to drive up wireless data: “We’re trying to launch an entertainment platform.”

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