|Key people||Brian Angiolet (SVP Chief Content Officer), Richard Tom (GM and CTO, Verizon Digital Entertainment)|
|Current status||Shut down|
go90 was an American over-the-top video service and mobile app owned and operated by Verizon Communications. The service was positioned as a mobile-oriented "social entertainment platform" targeted primarily towards millennials, featuring a mixture of new and acquired content from various providers. The service was available exclusively within the United States, although as of March 2018 some of its content became available internationally via Tumblr.
Following an unsuccessful launch (which content partners credited to a lack of firm content strategies) and resulting managerial turnover (including a relaunch of the service by the staff of Verizon acquisition and former competitor Vessel), on June 29, 2018, Verizon announced that go90 would be discontinued on July 31, 2018. It is estimated that Verizon spent up to $1.2B on the failed venture.
go90 was originally formed using assets and talent acquired from Intel's unreleased OnCue streaming service, which Verizon acquired for around $200 million in January 2014. Go90 was characterized as "The brainchild of Brian Angiolet, senior vice president of consumer products at Verizon". Angiolet is further credited as being the person in charge of the service from the outset. Unveiled in September 2015, go90 was described as being a mobile-first "social entertainment platform" targeting millennial demographics, featuring video content from various partners, as well as features such as the ability to join "crews" related to shows, and to create clips from its shows and share them on social networks. Verizon planned to leverage ad technology and content assets it acquired in its purchase of AOL. Verizon planned to release 50-55 new, short episode series.
Chip Canter, formerly of NBCUniversal, was brought on as general manager in March 2016, and hired Ivana Kirkbride, formerly of YouTube, as chief content officer. Under Canter, the service's content strategy shifted to one focusing on a wider variety of content in genres that had been performing well, such as gaming, music, sci-fi, sports (including live events), and dramas targeting young women. The service also planned to take a more granular approach to content acquisition, and lessen its aggressive focus on primarily targeting mobile platforms.
Despite high expectations from Verizon, go90's first year of operations were unsuccessful; partners reported that their content was drawing a minuscule audience (with most content only receiving view counts within the thousands, although some, such as The Runner, were able to reach at least a million), and that even under Canter's leadership, the service lacked clear content and distribution strategies. Digiday reported via go90 employees that Verizon's executives "were so consumed early on with the idea of providing a large quantity of high-quality content, that they never showed any focus. There was no indication that Verizon actually knew the audience that they were trying to reach." In May 2016, Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam admitted that go90 may have been "a little bit overhyped", backpedaling on previous pronouncements and the implications of major business and media investments. Insiders noted that content discovery and search on go90 had also been weak: not enough internal metadata was provided to categorize its videos, necessitating the hiring of contractors to manually compose this information. The process was only intended to take three months, but took nearly a year to complete.
On October 26, 2016, Verizon acquired Vessel, a streaming video startup differentiated by using subscriptions to receive priority access to its channels' newest content, led by former Hulu executives Jason Kilar and Richard Tom. Verizon announced that Vessel would be shut down at the end of the month; most of Vessel's staff were to join go90, but Kilar departed. On January 23, 2017, it was reported that Vessel's staff had been redeveloping go90, resulting in Verizon laying off 155 go90 employees from its San Jose office. Tom was appointed as chief technology officer of Verizon Digital Entertainment. During Verizon's fourth quarter earnings report the next day, it was revealed that average daily usage of the go90 app was "consistent sequentially at about 30 minutes per viewer". In early February, a Verizon spokesperson told FierceVideo that the service had seen organic growth over the past two months.
In late-March 2017, go90 released a significant redesign of its mobile app, which was designed to help improve discovery and content recommendations, and prioritize live content (such as sports) within the interface. The redesign also incorporated the "motion poster" concept for advertisement displays that originated from Vessel. Chip Canter was replaced as general manager in April 2017 by Richard Tom. The following month, it was reported that go90's app had 2.1 million average monthly users.
Under Angiolet's direction as Global Content Chief, Verizon made multiple investments and acquisitions in an effort to bolster go90.
In April 2016, Verizon acquired a 24.5% stake in AwesomenessTV, a digital media company targeting youth and teenagers, for around $159 million. DreamWorks Animation and Hearst Corporation also owned stakes in the company. In addition, Verizon invested $180 million over multiple years for AwesomenessTV to produce content for go90.
A joint venture with Hearst, Verizon Hearst Media Partners, acquired Complex Media in a deal reportedly valuing the company at $250 to $300 million. At least two of the venture's initiatives, Seriously.TV and Rated Red were shuttered in 2017 and 2018 respectively.
go90 featured original series, such as Mr. Student Body President, My Dead Ex, The Runner (which was produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon), T@gged, Tween Fest, Street Fighter: Resurrection and Transformers: Prime Wars Trilogy. Its original series were acquired from studios such as CollegeHumor, Funny or Die, Nerdist Industries, Machinima, MTV, and Rooster Teeth Productions, among others., as well as producers like Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, LeBron James, and Rob Gronkowski (who hosted and executive produced a Shark Tank-like series entitled MVP for two seasons).
From the onset, Mari Silbey of Light Reading felt that much of go90's library consisted of content that could already be found elsewhere, and contested whether Verizon's planned original content for the service would be compelling enough. In addition, Silbey argued that go90's announced social networking features were not inherently innovative for a video service, and that it was "hard to turn social media features into a driving force for popularity." Advertisers had been critical of the service, citing slower user adoption than expected. Warren Zenna of Havas Media felt that the app's user experience was inferior to that of YouTube.
Concerns were also displayed over Verizon's announced intent to not have go90 content count towards its subscribers' data caps, noting the company's stance against net neutrality.
The NWSL's streams on go90 faced sustained criticism from sportswriters: The Equalizer felt that the app was buggy and did not have the same wide device support as YouTube, while it was also argued that the relative obscurity of go90, and the inconsistent quality of the game streams, could harm the league's growth. After repeated technical issues, the league would live-stream several weeks of matches domestically on the NWSL website.
By 2017, as the service faltered, insiders revealed that Verizon had expedited its content deals by aggressively overpaying for them (describing the company as having gone in "guns blazing" to make deals), on the assumed basis that making large content investments would ensure growth.
Verizon subsequently acquired Yahoo!, and merged it with AOL into the subsidiary Oath. Its lead executive Tim Armstrong stated in February 2018 that go90 had been placed within the Oath division, but would likely be wound-down in the future. Armstrong admitted that go90 was a "super ambitious project", but that it was difficult to build its brand, and that its content deals could be better-leveraged by Oath's individual properties instead. In March 2018, fellow Oath property Tumblr began to syndicate some of go90's original content internationally—which Digiday considered as being a pilot project for this strategy.
After more aggressive promotion of its content across AOL and Yahoo properties, go90 had managed to increase its average monthly user count to 17 million. On June 29, 2018, Oath officially announced that go90 would be shuttered on July 31, 2018. The company stated that it would be evaluating the futures of go90's original series, and that it would "focus on building its digital-first brands at scale in sports, finance, news and entertainment for today's mobile consumers and tomorrow's 5G applications."
Estimates vary on the losses attributed to the failed service. Digiday cited two sources close to go90 who estimated total spending of $1.2 billion, including the Vessel and OnCue acquisitions. In Verizon's Q3 2018 quarterly filings, it cited $913M in charges related to "product realignment" attributable to shutting down go90. In September 2018, Verizon laid off 50 employees in the Content Operations group managed by Brian Angiolet and eliminated the group. Ivana Kirkbride and Richard Tom were among the departing employees.
In 2018, AwesomenessTV was sold to Viacom for $50 million. Digiday cited multiple factors in the sale and the loss in valuation: Verizon had partnered with AwesomenessTV on a subscription-based video service codenamed "Made for Mobile", but it was shelved in 2017 after Comcast division NBCUniversal acquired AwesomenessTV's majority-owner DreamWorks Animation. Verizon's financial commitment to Made for Mobile was re-purposed as a deal (valued between $150—$180 million over several years) for AwesomenessTV to produce content for go90. Despite having licensed content to other outlets and broadcasters (such as Hulu, YouTube Red, and Viacom's Nickelodeon), the company was reliant on Verizon and go90 for 40% of its revenue. In addition, insiders reported that the main partners had begun to express disinterest in AwesomenessTV; Comcast and Verizon are direct competitors in telecom, founder and veteran executive Brian Robbins (whose involvement was a motivating factor in Verizon's purchase) stepped down following Comcast/DWA purchase, while Comcast did not see AwesomenessTV as one of DWA's core assets, nor did they feel it was a sufficient compliment to their other digital media investments.
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