Verizon executive Marni Walden is in charge of the Go90 mobile video service. CTIA
LAS VEGAS — Verizon is treading into new territory with its new mobile video service.
Go90, a service that Verizon unveiled last week, breaks new ground for the New York telecommunications giant in several ways. Rather than a subscription, the service is free and is supported by advertisements. It’s also available to anyone, and isn’t exclusive to Verizon customers. Shockingly, Go90 won’t carry the Verizon logo.
That Verizon is willing to embrace a more open approach speaks to the underlying shifts in the industry, one in which smaller players such as T-Mobile and Sprint are starting to eat away at its core business of serving traditional smartphone customers. It’s driving the nation’s largest wireless carrier to look at different areas of growth and new business models, which means unique services such as Go90.
Verizon sent out 5 million invitations to its customers to test out Go90, and it plans a wider public launch later this month.
Unlike other so-called over-the-top video services — which are delivered via an Internet connection instead of a traditional cable TV subscription — its videos are delivered to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. But it didn’t start out that way.
Marni Walden, president of Verizon’s product innovation and new businesses unit, sat down with CNET at the CTIA Wireless trade show to share some tidbits on Go90.
A completely different product
Go90 evolved from OnCue, an online video service developed at Intel. When Intel sought to refocus on its core chip business, it unloaded the business to Verizon in January 2014.
OnCue was meant to replace the traditional television service, with bundles of online channels you could pay for that ranged between $60 and $100. Verizon scrapped the idea after taking over.
“When you looked at business model it was just really hard to see how you were going to make that work,” Walden said.
The OnCue team was initially resistant to going purely mobile, since it represented such a radically different direction. But customer focus group testing proved out the appeal of the service, and the idea of a mobile-only service was set by that summer.
But Go90 arrives at a time when other services are able to run across multiple devices, from smartphones to streaming set-top boxes to computer browsers.
“Everybody else is doing all these other things,” she said. “So we very much want to different what our product was going to be about.”
Learning something new
Verizon was highly dependent on focus groups to craft the direction of Go90. The company incorporated ways to share video to cater to the social element of its target audience — people known as “millennials” who are typically under the age of 30.
“We would watch people consume content and the very next thing they wanted to do was to have somebody sitting next to them watch it as well,” Walden said. “We didn’t know how big that was going to be in building the product.”
Opening Go90 up
When the company made the switch from a subscription model — its bread and butter moneymaker — to an advertisement-based business, the company knew it had to open the service up.
“In order to drive that business model, you need as many eyeballs on the product as you can,” Walden said.
There will be some content that will be exclusive to Verizon. Its NFL games will be available to only Verizon customers because of the licensing agreement struck between the league and the carrier.
For a company known for slapping its brand on everything — smartphones, billboards, trucks — it was surprising that it resisted throwing the Verizon name, or even the color red, on the app. When the company advertises Go90, the commercials won’t feature Verizon.
Say hello to sponsored data
Verizon’s acquisition of AOL in June gave the company the ad technology critical to powering the service.
Beyond simple advertisements, Walden said the company plans to roll out sponsored videos that wouldn’t eat into your mobile data cap — critical in this age where data is limited and customers face paying potential overage charges for watching too many mobile videos.
Walden hinted at more creative ways to deliver short mobile video ads.
Not mobile-only forever?
While Go90 is mobile-only for now, that may not always be the case.
The company is considering a companion product for the home or other screens, including the browser or a set-top streaming box like Roku, at some later point, Walden said. Much of it will depend on demand from its viewers.
“The idea of being able to go across all screens at some point will be something we’ll continue to evaluate,” she said.
For now, Walden is focused on ensuring Go90 has a successful launch.
“We will only do that when we got this first product nailed,” she said.