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The Five Spot: Andrew McCollum

After focusing on college campuses with IP-delivered multiscreen TV services, Philo branched out nationally with last November’s launch of a sports-free, entertainment- focused over-the-top TV service with subscriptions starting at $16 per month.

Andrew McCollum, an executive on Facebook’s founding team, has been leading the charge as Philo CEO since November 2014. With the debut of Philo’s new national virtual multichannel video programming distributor offering, he now finds himself at the leading edge of the TV evolution. “It’s our belief that TV is the most social form of media there is, yet of all of the TV experiences and products that we use day to day, none of them have any social functionality built into them at all,” he said. Philo aims to change that.

B&C senior content producer-technology Jeff Baumgartner recently spoke with McCollum about the recent launch and what’s coming next. An edited transcript follows.

Following the launch of Philo’s national service, what are the biggest surprises you’ve seen so far?
[We did] a survey with users a month ago, and one of the main questions was how they were getting TV before Philo. What was really fascinating to see was a significant percentage of the users were not getting TV at all, or were not getting the networks that we offer before signing up for Philo.

The other surprising thing was that the demographic spread [for Philo] is a lot broader than we originally thought.

Have the subscriber results compared to your expectations so far?
We intentionally did sort of a soft launch of the service, where we didn’t start with a huge marketing push. The reason was to [ensure] we were delivering a great experience to our early users. We’ve really only started ramping up marketing for the service in the last six to eight weeks, but I’d say that, on the balance, we’re happy with early subscriber growth.

Philo will be adding a bunch of social features to the service this year. What’s the status of that plan?
We want to start with some really core and basic concepts of being able to discover new content from your social networks and see what your friends are watching and are passionate about and share content really easily with others.

But we want to make sure there’s enough of a community on the service that these features are valuable and useful to users. We don’t have a set date where we’ll unveil those, but we do use them internally and we’re excited about them.

What are the chances that you’ll add sports options?
Sports is a compelling part of the live TV experience, and it’s something we have consistently explored. The challenge has always been that sports, in a typical TV package, comprises the lion’s share of the programming costs and, therefore, the price to the consumer. For people who don’t watch that content, that’s a huge amount of cost to be carrying.

Other than growing your base and the new social enhancements, what are your big 2018 priorities?
If I had to add one more, it’s exploring the role of digital alternative content in a streaming TV experience like ours. Digital alternative content has been getting more and more compelling; it’s been driving a larger and larger portion of people’s video viewing. And yet they largely exist in a separate area. Digital content and TV content are two sort of walled gardens that don’t really intermingle.