Offering a new spin on the virtual MVPD, Philo has pushed ahead with the anticipated, national launch of an entertainment-focused, sports-free OTT TV service that features channels from programmers that include A+E Networks, AMC, Discovery Communications, Scripps Networks Interactive and Viacom.
Philo’s service, which will weave in a raft of social features in early 2018, starts at $16 for a lineup of more than 35 channels and an add-on package that costs an additional $4 per month for an additional nine channels (Philo’s full channel lineup is listed further below).
Philo allows up to three simultaneous streams per account, and the ability for users to set up individual profiles.
The company expects that consumers who want access to major local broadcast TV feeds will use other means, such as over-the-air TV antennas, and complement the service with Netflix and other OTT options.
“That gives you a lot of options to create TV package that makes sense for you,” Andrew McCollum, Philo’s CEO, said.
Philo’s service also includes a cloud DVR that stores unlimited shows and movies for up to 30 days, along with a VOD library and a Lookback component provides access to shows that have aired within the past three days. In addition to showing what’s on now and in the future, Philo’s guide will also let users go back to see what aired within the past few hours.
Philo’s OTT service is initially supported on web browsers, Roku players, iOS devices, and via Chrome on Android devices. It expects to add more TV-connected platforms as well as a dedicated app for Android.
Focused on Being Friction-Free
Philo, which is offering one-week free trials of its new service, is also looking to take all the friction out of service sign ups by simplifying that process.
Consumers who want to join only need to supply their mobile phone number. In exchange, Philo will text them a code they can input to start using the product right away without requiring them to provide a billing address or credit card number.
The new direct-to-consumer OTT TV service expands Philo’s business, which previously had been centered on the delivery of live TV, VOD and cloud DVR services to college students in partnership with several universities, including Auburn, Duke, Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, and the University of Alabama. Philo expects to be teamed up with more than 75 schools by the end of the year.
The emergence of Philo’s sports-free skinny TV bundle has been hinted at for months by programming execs such as Viacom CEO Bob Bakish and Discovery CEO David Zaslav.
RELATED: Zaslav: Sports-Free Skinny Bundles Will Come
Though Philo’s approach with the skinny bundle appears to be targeting a subsection of consumers who don’t watch (or don’t want to pay) for live sports, it will face off with traditional pay TV providers and a growing array of virtual MVPDs that include Sling TV, PS Vue, YouTube TV, Hulu and fuboTV, which has developed a package that uses sports programming as its centerpiece.
RELATED: Sports-Free Streaming Bundle Closer to Launch
OTT Rights Opening Up
McCollum noted that Philo (a name inspired by TV pioneer Philo T. Farnsworth, and a company formerly known as Tivli) originally set out about six years ago to improve the TV experience on college campuses, but noted that a national OTT version of the service wasn’t possible at the time because it was difficult then to acquire the streaming rights. That’s all changed as content owners warmed up to the idea amid a shift in the pay TV market that includes a growing cord-cutting trend.
He said Philo and its partners realized there’s an opportunity to create an entertainment-focused package at an affordable price that cuts out sports networks.
Additionally, Philo’s agreements with programmers is more “open” and flexible with respect to data, he said, noting that Philo will be sharing that information with those partners in a way that, they hope, will provide more guidance on shows and other programming that resonate with consumers that fall into Philo’s category.
That data-driven model will also help to power another tenet of Philo’s approach.
Social Features Coming in Early 2018
“We want to build first social television product,” explained McCollum, an exec who was on the founding team at Facebook.
TV, he said, is one of the most social mediums in existence, but most of those products don’t emphasize it in terms of how it’s integrated into the social media fabric.
Early next year, Philo will add opt-in features that focus on social interaction between subscribers that, for example, will allow them to share what they are watching and discover what shows are popular with other people in their social circle. The system will also let subs control what TV viewing is visible to others who are in their social networks.
“The social network is the most powerful recommendation engine in existence,” McCollum said.
To facilitate conversations about a show, Philo will also provide a way for people in their social network to synchronize viewing.
Younger age groups, he added, “are used to sharing everything in their life on Snapchat and Instagram.”
McCollum said Philo intends to focus some of its efforts on consumers who are just getting out of college, adding that 90%-plus of Philo’s subs on college campuses said they’d want to keep the service after they left school.
McCollum said Philo is getting access to ad avails that’s typical of other MVPDs.
Philo has raised about $51 million, with backers that include A+E Networks, AMC Networks, Discovery, Scripps and Viacom, New Enterprise Associates, Rho Ventures, XFund, HBO, CBC New Media Group, and Mark Cuban’s Radical Investments.
The San Francisco-based company has about 35 employees.
Philo’s Starting Lineup
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