Although not lacking for options to begin with, the crowded market for mobile TV just got a bit more congested.
In the past month or so, many of tech's most powerful names have launched updates to their respective next-gen television offerings, with Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) recently following the likes of Apple, Alphabet (parent company of Google), Microsoft, and more into the market.
But do Comcast's and Verizon's efforts stand a chance of succeeding in this growing glut of TV services? Let's take a look.
Comcast and Verizon go online
Although the two offerings share many characteristics, Comcast's and Verizon's digital TV services also differ in a number of critical ways. Starting with Comcast, the cable giant's new Watchable service allows non-Comcast subscribers (read: anyone) to watch a smattering of online content from popular new media publishing brands like Vox Media, BuzzFeed, Vice, GoPro, and the like. Comcast has made the service free and ad-supported, although the real-world manifestation of Watchable falls well short of the "major new video platform" discussed in media reports over the past year. Importantly, though, by making Watchable free to anyone, Comcast has moved into geographies outside its current cable and broadband footprints in the United States. However, Comcast's long-term commitment to what appears to be a rather "raw" product remains far from clear.
Turning to Verizon, its Go90 offering largely parallels Comcast's Watchable with two notable exceptions. First, Verizon's Go90 includes a modicum of exclusive TV content atop a similar swath of syndicated third-party video content, whereas Comcast's Watchable relies solely on syndicated, non-exclusive content. Additionally, Verizon only supports Go90 on mobile devices, whereas Comcast appears to have made Watchable available on desktop and mobile. That's by design, as Verizon can only monetize Go90 among its subscribers by accruing data fees as consumers stream the service on the go, while also selling advertisements against the content.
But what's the point?
Comcast's and Verizon's efforts leave plenty to be desired. Both Watchable and Go90 lean on content that's already widely available. But both companies understand the threat from the rise of mobile to their business models, so Watchable and Go90 are probably intended to serve as something like "public beta" services -- unfinished products that go to market to create an initial consumer awareness. The problem with such a strategy is that an underwhelming initial product will do little to spur user adoption. Only time will tell, but I imagine both Verizon's and Comcast's online video products won't generate much consumer interest in their current forms.
However, of greatest value to tech and media investors is that these twin moves help to illustrate the progress many eagerly await in the cable market, even if the pace of the change is glacial. Although they represent innovation on the software side of the on-screen media consumption experience, products such as Apple TV and Alphabet's Chromecast have been unable to combine their improved UIs with popular content to match. After years of on-again, off-again rumors, Cupertino's over-the-top content broadcast service has reportedly stalled out at the negotiating table.
These mobile TV services from Comcast and Verizon could be initial efforts to slowly transition their cable products into the next generation of broadcast in hopes of effectively beating more nimble (and popular) potential competitors to the market. Only time will tell. However, one thing is clear in all of this early jockeying: Comcast and Verizon will need to meaningfully improve Watchable and Go90 if they intend on gaining even a semblance of meaningful market share.