Comcast has invested in its first batch of original digital shows exclusively available on Watchable — its free, ad-supported multiplatform video service aimed at reaching millennials, a cohort that notably watches less traditional TV than their elders.
The nine short-form series include “Logan Paul Vs,” a reality series featuring the social-media star from Studio71; Refinery29’s unscripted “Ballin’ on a Budget” starring rapper-comedian Awkwafina (who has been cast in the all-female “Oceans Eight”); street-improv game show “I Want My Phone Back” from CollegeHumor; and travel series “Cholos Try” from Hispanic-focused digital media company Mitu.
Watchable, launched a year ago, really isn’t a “YouTube killer” as Comcast had been rumored to be cooking up. Instead, it’s more a hedge against the long, slow decline of cable TV, with a programming strategy skewed toward younger audiences and distribution across mobile, web and cable TV footprint. It’s more like Verizon’s Go90: a bet by an established TV distributor that it can find new audiences via an entirely new brand.
“It’s a point of differentiation, to give our audience a reason to come here and not somewhere else,” said Craig Parks, VP of programming for Watchable. “It’s also an opportunity to work with our partners in a deeper way.” He said his team has been closely involved in the production of each of the nine originals.
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Whether the Comcast’s originals foray will take Watchable to a new level remains uncertain. Execs declined to provide viewing figures for Watchable, but said the service’s mobile usage has been increasing 40% month over month in 2016.
Watchable’s content is free to anyone in the U.S. But one thing that makes Watchable stand out from the rest of the over-the-top pack is that it has a built-in TV audience: The content on Watchable is available via Comcast’s Xfinity X1, which about 40% of its 22 million cable TV customers have access to (with 50% targeted to have X1 by the end of 2016). According to Comcast, users who access Watchable video on X1 average about 30 minutes per session.
For Mitu co-founder and CEO Roy Burstin, Watchable represents a key way to get its programming into a next-gen video service that includes reach into television. “Comcast is a very strategic partner for us,” he said. “We want to get in front of as many young Latinos as possible, including on TV.”
Watchable now has 50 content partners, which include BuzzFeed, Vice Media, Defy Media and Tastemade, offering more than 350 shows on the service that are non-exclusive.
For the original shows, Comcast could have decided to commission shows from producers and studios, and invested in content with them. But, according to Parks, “we felt a better approach was to work with partners who have this audience built in and work together.” A core element of Comcast’s deals for the Watchable is audience activation: The partners and talent have committed to promoting the shows through their social-media channels.
Comcast has negotiated licensing windows for the nine series (Parks declined to specify the length of the exclusivity). The episodes clock in at under 10 minutes apiece.
Watchable’s first three original series launch Tuesday, with all episodes available in binge-friendly format:
- “Ballin’ on a Budget,” Refinery29: Nora Lum — better known as Awkwafina — takes to the streets of New York to demonstrate how to live the high life on a low budget – like spending a day at the spa with little to no cash, or planning a fun first date that costs nothing. (8 episodes)
- “Cholos Try,” Mitú: Based on a listicle that became a series of Facebook videos with more than 100 million views, the series follows four Latinos from East L.A who get out of their comfort zone and immerse themselves in cultures across America, providing perspective on everything from Renaissance fairs to ghost hunting, and high fashion to Alaskan outdoor living. (10 episodes)
- “How To Human,” Cut.com: Part how-to, part scripted comedy, the series follows the ups and downs (mostly downs) of a young woman learning the true meaning of “failing forward.” (10 episodes)
Comcast has ordered an additional six shows, slated to premiere over the next few months:
- “Logan Paul Vs,” Studio71: The social-media superstar bravely takes on potential life-threatening challenges including wrestling a bear, Navy Seal training, bull riding, wilderness survival, and more.
- “Am I Doing This Right?”, BuzzFeed Motion Pictures: BuzzFeed comedian Kelsey Darragh explores the art of “adulting”—or as previous generations called it, “growing up.”
- “Knock Knock,” PopSugar: Fashion designer Rachel Antonoff hosts a series going inside the homes, offices, dressing rooms, and other intimate spaces of personalities including “Saturday Night Live” star Aidy Bryant, TV veterinarian Dr. Jan Pol, and designer Lisa Frank.
- “I Want My Phone Back,” CollegeHumor: Host Alana Johnston and a cast of improv performers take to the streets of Los Angeles, giving passersby the chance to win up to $1,000 — by handing over their mobile phones and letting the show’s pranksters post to social media, and text and call their contacts. The longer contestants stay in the game, the more money they make.
- “100 Years of Beauty,” Cut.com: Based on the YouTube series, the how-to makeup and hairstyling show teaches viewers how to create contemporary looks inspired by historical figures such as Frida Kahlo, Billie Holiday, and Imelda Marcos.
- “Would You Rather,” Cut.com: Series featuring experts in a range of fields is a spin on the classic parlor game: Which of two difficult choices would you choose if you had to? Topics include narcolepsy or insomnia; being raised Muslim or Mormon; and surviving an artificial-intelligence uprising or a zombie apocalypse.
All of the shows series can be accessed online on Comcast’s Xfinity X1, at Watchable.com, and through the Watchable app for Android and Apple devices. For now, Watchable serves only pre-roll ads of 15 seconds or less. That inventory is sold by Comcast Spotlight, the operator’s in-house ad-sales division.
Comcast isn’t looking at generating a return on investment for any individual series, just as it doesn’t analyze the profitability of a single TV channel in its cable bundles, Parks said. But, he added, “We are going to measure impact very closely, to see the value of the promotion by our partners, the viewership and buzz generated in different ways, and what effect it has on this digital community in L.A. and New York.”