When Verizon bought Intel Media last year, the mobile giant dropped hints that it might use Intel’s OnCue technology to create an over-the-top TV service that could compete with cable. Then Erik Huggers, the lead developer for OnCue, quit Verizon after only five months, leaving everyone wondering if the project was dead.
The project is very much alive, but as you might expect when a technology property changes hands, it’s become something different than it was intended to be.
Verizon is getting ready to launch a new mobile video service called Go90 this summer, Variety has learned. Go90 promises users full episodes of TV shows from select networks as well as music videos and other shortform content, and the company will at least initially offer the service entirely free of charge.
Free is good, though it seems likely Go90 would be free only to Verizon Wireless subscribers. That’s because unlike Sling TV, Go90 is a very mobile-focused video service. According to a web site Verizon accidentally left online a few weeks ago:
“We didn’t want to mimic TV—that’s just an appliance you rearrange your living room around. Instead, we wanted to create a mobile-first, video-based app that can keep up with you and your on-the-go social life. One that features completely immersive live and on-demand content, no matter where you are or where you’re going. No cord required.”
On its surface, this isn’t a terrible strategy. A recent survey by Net2TV and SmithGeiger revealed that younger audiences are more likely to use smartphones and tablets to watch video. In particular, 35% of respondents aged 18 to 24 said they used a smartphone to watch TV shows. Verizon sells a lot of smartphones, and an exclusive free service like Go90 — one that just happens to include content from ESPN, CBS Sports, Fox, AMC, and the NFL — might be an attractive value-add for mobile phone customers.
By focusing exclusively on mobile, however, Verizon might be ignoring an important player in the video market.
As of last May, Google had reportedly sold 17 million Chromecasts, and users clicked the cast button more than 1.5 billion times. That’s a lot of people controlling their TV experience with smartphones and tablets. Google’s nascent Android TV platform offers Chromecast functionality as well.
With so many people — likely the younger demographic Verizon wants to attract — using their smartphones and tablets to control their TV experience, why would Verizon limit its Go90 video service to small screens?
Verizon clearly wants to change the way people watch TV, but by only utilizing smartphone and tablet screens, Verizon would end up making Go90 less useful than it could be, and nobody appreciates a less-useful product. But a streaming video app capable of extending itself from a smartphone to an HDTV? That would be a useful app. Netflix and YouTube are useful like that. So are HBO Now, Showtime, Hulu, Crackle, Plex, Vudu, WatchESPN, MLB.TV, MLS Live, and a wide variety of video and audio apps. Go90 needs to be useful like that to attract a larger user base.
What’s more, Verizon sells a ton of Android devices. Imagine being able to offer a free Chromecast with the purchase of a Go90-capable Android phone. Wouldn’t that be an eye-catching promotion? It would certainly be eye-catching to Comcast and AT&T, especially if Go90 offers enough high-quality video to effectively replace a pay TV subscription. With the content providers Verizon reportedly has lined up, Go90 could be a worthwhile service for the growing swath of cord-cutters and cord-nevers out there.
What Verizon can’t do, however, is completely ignore that “appliance you rearrange your living room around”. That appliance still matters to the vast majority of video viewers. One look at the growing sales for set-top boxes and streaming sticks like Chromecast should demonstrate that. Verizon might want to create a mobile-first service, but it ignores HDTVs at its peril.
Of course, Verizon is pretty good at ignoring things.