NBCUniversal Eyeing Late Fall Launch for New Video App Called Watch Back

Steve Burke CES - H 2016
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Steve Burke CES - H 2016

The entertainment company is licensing nonexclusive content from YouTube stars and other online influencers for the product.

NBCUniversal wants to drive more online audiences to its programming and is eyeing a late fall launch for a new product designed to do just that, multiple sources familiar with the plans tell The Hollywood Reporter.

The free app will be called Watch Back, per these sources, and would incentivize people to watch the programming. The domain WatchBack.com is listed as being registered to NBCU. The site is currently blank except for the message "coming soon..." The product is still in development and doesn't have a firm launch date, one source familiar with the plans cautions. 

Although industry observers have been anticipating that someday soon NBCU could plan a stand-alone streaming service of its own, Watch Back won't be the Comcast-owned company's answer to CBS All Access and HBO Now, according to one source familiar with the product. Instead, it will be used primarily as a marketing tool to pull viewers into the NBCU fold by offering samples of some full-length programming from across NBCU's networks as well as web-friendly clips. Full seasons of shows will not be available through Watch Back. 

NBCU is also licensing programming nonexclusively from a variety of partners, including some online influencers. According to one digital executive with knowledge of the deals, NBCU is currently looking for only second-window content and not commissioning original programming. 

Watch Back is separate from the NBC News streaming service also in the works. That offering, led by NBC News executive Rashida Jones, is described in a job posting as "Live news of the highest quality. Authentic. Voicy. Unexpected. Maybe even funny sometimes. But always informative and always stories well told."

NBCU has dabbled with streaming businesses before, including trying its hand at a more niche offering through comedy-centric service Seeso in 2016. The short-lived service cost $4 per month and offered access to originals like Take My WifeHarmonQuest and The UCB Show in addition to back catalog content, including episodes of Monty Python and 30 Rock. Seeso shut down in November. Comcast, meanwhile, launched its now-shuttered Watchable video service in 2015 as a home for free original shortform programming.

For years, NBCU's primary bet on streaming has come through its investment in Hulu, which it partly owns alongside Disney and Fox. (Time Warner also owns a smaller 10 percent stake in the Hulu business). When Comcast acquired NBCU, the company was required to give up its position as an active owner in Hulu and vacate its board seats. That provision ends this fall, but it hasn't stopped NBCU from licensing much of its television programming to Hulu over the years. Ahead of the revival of Will & Grace, for example, NBCU sold exclusive streaming rights to the original eight seasons of the comedy to the streamer. It is unclear what Comcast plans to do with its stake in Hulu once Disney completes its acquisition of Fox and becomes the majority owner of the business.