Video services

Comcast Readies 'Watchable' Online Service

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Word has leaked that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is preparing to launch a new ad-driven digital video service that will plug into its X1 platform and include content from online brands like Vox, Buzzfeed and The Onion, as well as TV networks like Comcast's own NBC Sports.

Business Insider was first to report on the new service, which at least temporarily is being called Watchable.

Light Reading has confirmed the news with multiple Comcast sources. One employee called Watchable "YouTube-esque at the moment," but another source close to the company said the goal is not to create a YouTube Inc. competitor, but rather to pull new content into X1 that will appeal to younger audiences.

This isn't the first time Comcast has tried its hand at online video. The cable company launched Streampix in 2012 as an over-the-top video rival to Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX). That service offered premium video-on-demand content for $4.99 per month, with content accessible on the web and on mobile apps. The Streampix library was limited, however, and Comcast shuttered the service in 2014. (See Comcast Turns Off Streampix.)

More recently, Comcast unveiled Stream. Like skinny bundles now available from Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Stream packages together a small group of channels for a discounted price. For $15 a month, subscribers will gain access to all of the major broadcast networks, plus PBS and HBO, bundled with a cloud DVR feature. Content will be delivered as part of a managed IP service (i.e. not over the Internet) and will be accessible on any connected device. The service is expected to launch in Boston this summer, and Chicago and Seattle before the end of the year, with Comcast planning a rollout to its entire footprint in 2016. (See Comcast 'Stream' Joins OTT Flood.)

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What's different about Watchable is that it will target customers with new types of content, rather than traditional TV and movie fare. It will also support itself with advertising, which is how content owners will get paid. Programming partners will reportedly make non-exclusive deals with Comcast and then get a cut of ad revenue rather than a per-viewer licensing fee.

On the advertising front, Comcast will likely rely on technology from its acquisitions of FreeWheel in 2014 and Visible World earlier this year. (See How Comcast Could Take on YouTube and Comcast Spins Wheel for FreeWheel.)

In many ways, the new Comcast service sounds similar to Verizon's planned Go90 offering. Both companies are hoping to attract millennial audiences, and have built up their video delivery infrastructures to support more IP-delivered content. However, Verizon has made a point of emphasizing the mobile-first nature of Go90 and how the service will work best on Verizon's own mobile networks. (See Verizon Builds Toward OTT Launch .)

In contrast, Comcast will rely more on a TV Everywhere approach, offering its new service on X1 set-tops and eventually through mobile apps. Comcast doesn't own a cellular network, but it does control a large WiFi footprint. In the future, the cable company could choose to market its new video service in conjunction with that WiFi hotspot network.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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