By Phil Goldstein
Wallace Colyer was standing in a garage.
It was a day in early February 2015 and Colyer was at Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) development center in San José, Calif. He was addressing more than 250 employees at an all-hands townhall meeting, and the crowd was gathered in a large, open area, bordered by windows that looked out onto the back lot of the carrier's facility.
The garage has rough concrete floors, and the carrier, which had moved a team into the facility in December 2014, had sealed the floors but hadn't finished them because it wanted the space to look rough. It was a Silicon Valley touch that signaled Verizon's desire to develop a little startup flair. The garage has six sets of doors that can be pulled down to divide the space up, but on this day they all were open. Colyer, Verizon's vice president of engineering for its Go90 over-the-top mobile video product, had an important message to deliver.
There was a large group of engineers, developers, user experience designers and product managers assembled in the garage of the facility, which is near Mineta San José International Airport and only five miles from downtown. Many of them had come over to Verizon in early 2014 as part of Verizon's acquisition of Intel's OnCue platform. Many of those at the meeting had been working on IPTV and FiOS TV products, and were not focused on mobile.
Everything was going to change. Colyer told them that they would start working on a mobile-first product. "Burn your old bridges," he told them, and stop thinking of set-top boxes and consumer electronics devices as the way consumers would access video content. And crucially, he said, the new product would be aimed primarily at millennials, Americans born between 1982 and 2000, a group who now number more than 83 million.
Verizon had been edging toward this moment for several months, with a so-called "skunkworks" team developing the foundations of what would become Go90.
"But that was sort of the turning point where we said, this is what we're doing, we're focusing on it, we're going to make a big bet in these areas and we're going to put a significant amount of resources and infrastructure into it," Colyer told FierceWireless.
This is the story of the creation of Go90, Verizon's attempt to create a new service that appeals to a demographic it views as significantly important to its future, as told by some of the key executives involved in its development. It's a story of how Verizon wanted to create a product that would appeal to millennials, driven by a desire to create a large audience the carrier could deliver to marketers for targeted advertising (advertisers have largely been flummoxed by millennials' aversion to traditional pay-TV products).
And more broadly, it's the story of how a multibillion-dollar telecommunications company known for its staid leadership and methodically consistent financial results incubated a startup -- and a startup mentality -- inside itself.
Go90 was launched commercially to all wireless customers, not just those of Verizon, at the beginning of October. There are no guarantees it will succeed in building a large user base of millennials who advertisers can hyper-target with their ads. Verizon's entire strategy is predicated around the idea that it can create enough cool content that millennials will like it and keep coming back to watch, so that it can then deliver that large and reliable audience to advertisers.
So far, the app hasn't exactly been a runaway success, though Verizon plans to market it much more in the near future and add more content. According to app analytics firm App Annie, Go90 has been downloaded between 100,000 and 500,000 times in Google Play, with an average rating of 3.6 out of 5. In Apple's App Store, the app has an average rating of 3.0 out 5, but App Annie does not have figures on how many times it has been downloaded from the Apple app store.
Verizon has invested significant resources in Go90, both internally and through content partnerships. But Verizon will need to work hard to pry millennials away from YouTube, Hulu, Netflix and other OTT services through its mix of curated TV content, original programming and live sports and entertainment.
BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield said that it's still early days, that "we're in the batter's box in inning one." It's unclear whether Verizon will strike out or hit a home run.