Comcast’s Watchable service isn’t “television,” but the TV has rapidly become an important conduit for the MSO’s free, ad-supported, over-the-top video service.
The average session time for Watchable video-on-demand content on Comcast’s X1 boxes is from 30 to 40 minutes, according to Craig Parks, Watchable’s VP of programming.
Watchable debuted in beta form in late 2016, and is currently being offered via the internet to millions of Comcast X1 boxes, as well as on web browsers and mobile apps. Access to Watchable on X1 boxes is currently limited to Comcast customers, but anyone in the U.S. can catch Watchable on mobile devices.
“From the beginning our theory was that, of course, mobile matters and, of course, over-the-top matters … but there are still huge audiences on television and engaged audiences on television,” Parks said. Watchable’s solid viewing data on X1 boxes, he added, “proves our theory that there are audiences here [on the TV], and that they’re watching this content in huge numbers, and at great lengths.”
Mobile is still the most-used platform for Watchable, though average session times are lower.
Watchable, which shares some similarities with go90, Verizon Communications’ free, ad-based and recently retooled OTT offering, is also exploring ways to get its content distributed on other TV-connected OTT devices, but hasn’t announced how that might happen. It’s also in discussions to offer Watchable with X1 syndication/licensing partners such as Cox Communications.
Though Watchable’s mix of original and licensed content sometimes gets tossed into the short-form category, Parks views its program lengths as a ’tweener, in that they are not as long as traditional TV programs, but are still longer than snippets that are found in the short-form video realm.
“When we’re asked how long should the content be, we answer: How long does it need to be?” Parks said, noting that Watchable’s programming steers toward themes and talent that are somewhat risky and willing to mash genres together to create new ones.
“There’s television and there’s short-form, but the reality is the size of the audience and the quality of the content and the utility of this content [means] we need to start thinking about this content differently,” he added, but allowed that Watchable, perhaps someday, will explore some content that one might find on “traditional television.”
The current strategy, however, remains focused on curating strong digital content that includes nonexclusives and exclusive series, and a primary target audience of consumers in the 24-34 age range that are typically drawn to sources such as Buzzfeed, Vox and Mashable.
GROWING AND LAUNCHING
Watchable launched with about 25 partners and 160 shows, and is now up to more than 70 partners and about 400 shows. To help distinguish itself from the digital pack, Watchable has launched about 11 exclusives so far, and has plans to add another 10 to 12 this year, Parks said.
“Our exclusive strategy is leading the way on the overall editorial brand and voice” of the service, Parks said, adding that Watchable reviewed more than 800 shows and concepts in 2016 alone. “There’s no shortage of content being pitched to us.”
Watchable has also moved ahead with the second seasons of Logan Paul Vs. starring social media star Logan Paul, and Cholos Try, a series focused on young Latinos who are going outside their comfort zone to immerse themselves in cultures and lifestyles across America.
In a bit of a twist, Paul’s second season will include episodes that cross-pollinate with two NBCUniversal properties, American Ninja Warrior (NBC) and Top Chef (Bravo).
Watchable has also tapped Uproxx to product its first documentary series, Us Against the World, a 10-parter centered on a Kentucky town divided over the firing of an African-American basketball coach days after he led one of the worst programs in the region to its first state championship.
“That’s a real serious departure for us in terms of everything we’ve done,” Parks said.
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