Verizon’s go90 just celebrated its first birthday. Only a few months after the telco hired Ivana Kirkbride to head its video programming, go90 and Verizon’s co-owned channels (Seriously.tv and RatedRed, now housed under Complex Networks) show no sign of slowing down momentum in content acquisitions and licensing. And, with one month until the new year, sources tell VideoInk Kirkbride has landed on a revised strategy for programming in what the company is internally referring to as an “Ice Cream Sundae” approach.
But first, some learnings. Most programmers building destinations for the mobile generation are targeting a millennial audience, or the Snapchatting pre-teen/young adult. For Verizon-owned streaming services like go90, the demographic of target is 16–24, males and females, though they have found that shows like “Guidance” (AwesomenessTV) and “[email protected]” (AwesomenessTV) tailored for the 8–12 and 13–18 year old fan girl community are highly watched. The programmer also found the same to be true with 35+ males for sports-related titles, given its exclusive streaming rights for NFL games as well as soccer.
And while Verizon wouldn’t comment on the exact direction and budgets, sources corroborated that Kirkbride has a budget well beyond the 2016 spend of over $500 million for series orders, a blend of which will be 20–50 episode orders in short form and a few “big bets” across 5 different content categories — a teen / tween-scripted-drama category for 8–12 year old females; a geek/gamer vertical for males 15–24; general entertainment for both males and females 16–24; “Jock Jam” for the male millennial sports fans; and “We Go Hard” — a music, lifestyle, counter culture genre for males in line with Complex Networks’ audience. While short form and live video will be primary to go90’s acquisitions, this year the business will test longer feature film formats.
“What you’ll start to see from go90 is a collection of targeted networks with a distinct brand voice programming against demo and interest areas. We will lean in to where we are strong with young females and sports fans. But we will also add in new networks that will super-serve millennials in action, comedy, sci-fi, animation, music and culture leaning into our current content partnerships and JVs. By doing this we hope to bridge the gap and allow our audience to more easily discover new exclusive programming and original shows that we think they will love.” Ivana Kirkbride, Chief Content Officer at go90.
To achieve the dream, the Verizon team is using Ice Cream Sundaes as an analogous breakdown of where budget will be divided. And it’s not much different from trend-setting streaming destinations like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon — a blend of syndication, originals and exclusives. Originals are the whipped cream — an area where Verizon maxed out over the last year with over 1800 hours, according to one source — with a long-form, feature films and big bets cherry on top. Land-grab syndication and smart exclusive library titles are the ice cream scoops, with a personalization layer of hot fudge tying the pieces together algorithmically to drive discovery and individualized viewing experiences.
What’s unclear is whether Verizon will prioritize formats that are creator-driven the way YouTube Red has been; though many of Verizon’s stand-out formats including “Chachi’s World” and “Snooki and JWOWW” are talent-driven. The latest project picked up by the digital distributor “Thanksgiving” stars Amy Sedaris (“Strangers with Candy”) and Chris Elliot (“Eagleheart”). And, like any good holiday crowd-pleaser, “Thanksgiving” chronicles the family tension and ensuing debales that have become commonplace with “the holidays.” The half-hour comedy series will roll out over three days, with a total of eight episodes airing.
According to Kirkbride, more formats like this are to be expected.
So what does this mean for the various producers ready to crank out content ideas for Verizon?
- Production companies have at least another strong year of business from Verizon. The ecosystem is only as strong as the money flowing in and the repeatable business generated to keep it cycling. Various industry executives have whispered concerns about how long companies like Verizon, Hearst and YouTube will continue spending like year’s prior. The answer — at least for 2017, business potential looks to be good, to very, very good.
- Verizon already has high volumes of video content for younger teens so it’s likely go90’s team will be particularly hungry for the “bridge content” — gamer, geek culture, general entertainment formats and programming that fits the Complex and Vice counter culture generation.
3. Verizon may be a well-oiled machine as one of the top three global destinations after Facebook and Google, reaching over 1.3 billion monthly active users, but go90 is still a growing baby. Verizon grabbed criticism for its early deal structures, many of which have since been reworked. Old Hollywood systems for buying and distributing formats are being adopted and revised. In 2017, it’s still likely go90’s team will have residual kinks to be worked out. Opportunity or liability? Maybe both.
4. Be prepared to have Verizon’s marketing budgets at your back but to also own an internal marketing strategy. This will be another year of learning for Verizon, so the value of driving eyeballs to IP that otherwise has no brand equity will be a key factor in surfacing renewals. This will also be crucial as go90 continues to expand its reach outside of the mobile-app walls.
With Verizon in market looking to drive explosive growth in video for its own business, competitors like YouTube Red and AT&T, which has begun pre-installing Fullscreen onto devices, will have to be prepared to go toe-to-toe with budgets or find other means of enticing producers to serve their best content forward to anyone but Verizon’s businesses — go90, Seriously, RatedRed and other services forthcoming.