Verizon's Go90 shows the company can take a risk - but the reward isn't guaranteed

Phil Goldstein

Verizon's (NYSE: VZ) Go90 over-the-top mobile video service represents a lot of different things, including a major bet, a big risk, a bold new endeavor and a way to try to get ahead of the curve. It's a way for fresh, young online talent to get a wider viewership on mobile devices. It's a curated content application. It may be all of those things but what it truly represents is a platform for aggregating an audience -- specifically millennials -- so that Verizon's advertising and marketing partners can send them hyper-targeted advertisements.

I spent the last few months reporting on how Go90 came into being and why and how it was created. It was an interesting journey into a story that hasn't been well told until now. The wireless market has been hearing about Verizon's content partners for Go90 for months now, and the app has been live for around seven weeks. But there has been scant attention paid to why it was created in the first place.

Verizon saw that video viewing was going mobile and that advertisers were having difficulty reaching millennials – those born between 1982 and 2000, who now number more than 83 million in the United States alone. The company, through consumer research, also saw that consumers really liked cutting up and sharing short clips, and that short clips got far more viewers than longer ones. Verizon combined all of these insights and decided to create Go90.

In creating the service, Verizon took on a startup ethos, and iterated constantly, using focus groups and a DevOps approach to continuously refine the product. Top executives who were involved in Go90's creation said that mentality has started to spread to other parts of Verizon, traditionally thought of as a lumbering telco. However, the company realizes it will need to be more nimble if it wants to remain relevant with younger consumers.  

So does Go90 resonate with its core target demographic? It's hard to say at this point, but the app certainly hasn't been a smash success with millions of downloads. Part of that is because up until now, Verizon hasn't poured vast amounts of money into marketing it, though that will soon change.

I'm 28 and squarely in the millennial camp, if on the older end of the age range. I've been using Go90 fairly steadily for the last few weeks. There is some interesting and funny content in the app, including original shows like a sketch comedy series called "Betch" and variety and entertainment show, "Top Five Live." I've also seen lots of ads for Gogurt and Pop-Tarts, which haven't exactly been relevant. I haven't felt compelled to check in with the app throughout the day. But in general I don't watch a lot of video on my smartphone, so maybe I'm just too much an old soul to "get" Go90.

Either way, Verizon has clearly invested a lot of time and money into Go90, especially into developing original programming. This isn't a lark for Verizon – the company is investing for the long haul, because it clearly sees Go90 as the wave of the future, both in terms of how to deliver mobile video content and as a way to get revenue from advertisers.

It remains to be seen if Go90 will appeal to millennials and become a hit product, which would in turn deliver the audience advertisers want. But what is clear is that Verizon has spent years developing Go90, and hopes it will succeed. For a deep dive into how Verizon created Go90, check out this special report. --Phil