After Go90's Collapse, Who's Buying "Snackable" TV Now?

GO90_Cellphone_Comp - iStock - H 2018
iStock; Courtesy of Verizon

With Verizon shutting down its costly app, the shortform content community looks to sports (and Jeffrey Katzenberg?).

When Verizon pulls the plug on its ambitious video streaming app go90 at the end of July, the telecom giant will join a list of companies that have failed to build businesses from short, "snackable" videos. Now the question facing the digital video industry is whether there's an appetite for such content.

In the nearly three years since Verizon launched go90 as a free, ad-supported video destination, the company has pumped in what sources estimate to be hundreds of millions of dollars to license original programming from dozens of producers, including Machinima, LeBron James' Uninterrupted and Whistle Sports. Firms like Awesomeness and Complex Media (both partially owned by Verizon through its joint venture with Hearst) struck expansive deals to distribute content on the app, resulting in shows like teen drama T@gged and docuseries QB1.

But it recent months, executives had put buying on hold while they waited to see how go90 would fit into the newly combined AOL and Yahoo group, known as Oath. Now, per sources, Verizon is meeting with partners and, in many cases, is expected to give rights back to producers.

"They seem to want to do right by Hollywood," notes one person familiar with those talks. But it remains to be seen whether those shows can find a new online home. "Who are we developing shortform originals for if not go90 and Fullscreen?" questions a digital insider. "The over-the-top market still needs to sort itself out."

There might be an opportunity for some go90 originals to live on at Verizon. In announcing the shutdown of the app, a spokeswoman noted that the company, through Tim Armstrong-led media division Oath, would "focus on building its digital-first brands at scale in sports, finance, news and entertainment."

Sports has been a bright spot for Verizon, which has re-upped its deals with the NFL and NBA to live-stream games across its platform. Tumblr, acquired through the purchase of Yahoo, has also been experimenting with video by distributing some go90 programming. But the impact of the retrenchment on the shortform video community is far from clear, especially as Comcast, ABC and Fullscreen also have backed away.

Many digital producers are looking at Jeffrey Katzenberg's plans for shortform video startup NewTV to reinvigorate the market if he raises the $2 billion he's seeking to get the project, led by HP veteran Meg Whitman, off the ground. The expectation is that he will turn to established Hollywood contacts, not the shortform community, for content.

BTIG media analyst Rich Greenfield calls it "the most ambitious plan" in the shortform space, adding, "He believes in a subscription. He believes in premium video. And he wants to put substantial dollars behind it." 

Meanwhile, streaming giants Netflix, Amazon and Hulu have indicated an interest in buying shortform programming. But efforts are still early, and they are taking targeted bets, like Netflix's BuzzFeed News docuseries Follow This. Predicts one digital producer, "I do think shortform will have its day, but it's going to take some time."

A version of story first appeared in the July 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.