Just being Watchable isn't enough, Comcast found

Just a month after it kicked the struggling young streaming-video comedy channel Seeso to the gutter, Comcast is cutting off the streaming service Watchable at the knees, eliminating the funding of original content and putting this two-year experiment “on life support.” So first reported the industry tracking news site Digiday on Tuesday.

Initially launched with content from 30 partners (including Awesomeness TV, Buzzfeed, Discovery Digital Networks, Fast Company, GoPro, Mashable, NBCUniversal, The Onion, Popsugar, Red Bull, Vice and Vox), Watchable has had difficulty pulling viewers for this non-exclusive licensed material from other sites that offer the same shows — most notably the billions-served gorilla YouTube.

Doubling down on its original bet, Comcast started funding original, exclusive content a year ago for the ad-supported Watchable – investing in modestly budgeted (“five figures per episode”) shows like Ballin’ on a Budget with rapper Awkwafina and fashion designer Rachel Antonoff’s celebrity house-call outing Knock Knock. But the traffic hasn’t improved. In July, Watchable’s website and mobile app combined reached a relatively paltry 297,000 unique visitors, down from a prior 12-month peak of 416,000, according to comScore. Licensing partners who were in for just a share of advertising revenue have “started taking content off of the platform,” one told Digiday. Contracts for Watchable’s original-content team are set to expire at the end of October.

Comcast is hardly the only big-money player that’s come up empty with streaming-video portals: Spotify and Conde Nast have also taken their licks.Verizon is suffering expensively with Go90. Samsung shut down Milk Video just a year after it debuted.

The writing was on the wall last week, when Comcast announced that Watchable’s arch-rival YouTube is now accessible to cable TV customers on the Xfinity X1 platform and searchable by voice, to a degree, on the X1 remote.

“We are taking our learnings, among others, and shifting the strategy for Watchable to focus on integrating the content within our Xfinity TV platforms, notably X1, where we saw the greatest amount of engagement and organic discovery,” Jamie Gillingham, vice president of strategic development at Comcast, said in a statement in response to Digiday. “Also, we created new technologies for managing and consuming content for Watchable that we are now using in other parts of the business.”