Philo CEO Andrew McCollum Q&A: What to expect this year

Hot Seat Andrew McCollum

Philo’s live TV product officially launched about two months ago and CEO Andrew McCollum was anxious to see how it would be received by consumers.

The service, which packages live content from cable programmers A+E, AMC, Discovery, Scripps and Viacom for $16 per month, has long been under construction at Philo, but in November it went live.

“We intentionally didn’t plan to do a huge marketing blitz while the service launched because we wanted to avoid the fates of other services that have had really rocky starts technically from a customer experience perspective,” said McCollum, who seemed relieved by the fairly glowing reviews the service has earned thus far.

Now that the cat is out of the bag and usage is steadily increasing, Philo is now focusing on ramping up marketing through traditional digital outlets and through the programmers who are pushing their content out on the service.

At CES in Las Vegas, FierceVideo sat down with McCollum to discuss putting consumer feedback to use, adding content without blowing up Philo’s price point, and integrating social features.

FierceVideo: Philo only requires a phone number to sign up for a free trial. Has that relatively easy process encouraged more users to try it out?

Andrew McCollum: Yeah I think it has been really successful. We don’t really have anything to directly compare it to because we didn’t try it one way and then change it. But I would say we love it and it seems like users really like it too. We’re still trying to tweak exactly how it works because we always want to think about ways in which we can improve the process.

We want people to try the product. We think we lowered the barrier enough as much as possible.

FierceVideo: Now that the service is launched, what are Philo’s priorities now? Is it building the programming, device support?

McCollum: You hit the major ones. When we launched, those were the things that came up right away. There were some things that we had hoped to get into the launch but just for prioritization and timing reasons, didn’t make it into the product, in terms of building out all of the features and functionality of the apps that we launched. For example, a lot of people after we launched wanted more of a guide experience on Roku, which we didn’t have time to fully build out before we launched.

Then, we received very strong feedback about people wanting additional platforms. We’ve been investing a bunch of time and we’ve been reprioritizing to really push new platform work up in our development timeline.

We got some other interesting requests. We got a lot of requests for enabling log ins on TVE apps, which is something that we have planned and had done a lot of the work for but because demand was so strong we’ve tried to accelerate that.

From the content side, we’ve been talking about bringing additional content to the platform. We’ve had requests for things people want to see, like the Hallmark Channel for example. There’s a huge number of Hallmark Channel fans out there. So we’ve been talking to folks like that in order to figure out a deal for bringing their content to Philo.

FierceVideo: In a recent AMA on Reddit, you mentioned Philo was open to adding broadcast networks and live sports, or at least to didn’t completely close the door on the idea. But you reiterated that it would have to be done in a way where Philo could maintain its flexibility and value. Can you elaborate on what that means?

McCollum: We talked to all the major programming groups as we worked on creating the service. We ended up going the path we did because we recognized it was an offering that just wasn’t out there in the marketplace.

But the thesis behind how broadcasters and major sports owners were looking at OTT, to us, just didn’t sync with what we think consumers are asking for in the current TV climate. You see a lot of people reacting to the high cost of cable, wanting more flexibility and choice over what channels they subscribe to, and not having to take stuff that’s not interesting and compelling to them. Without getting into too much detail, being able to do that, especially as a new entrant, is really tough.

There have been a lot of streaming services created and if you look at the offering from YouTube and Hulu, the attitude has been to put more in the core. With both of those services, you don’t have any choice but to subscribe to all of the regional sports networks. And they drive a lot of cost.

That was a real challenge for us in the initial deal making and it remains a challenge. But I feel there should be a way to solve it though. There are a lot of people who love sports content and they are willing to pay for it. We should be able to create an offering for the people who want that stuff so they can get it. Today, you can already kind of do that. You can sign up for Philo, and then sign up for Fubo or YouTube to get broadcast and sports.

It doesn’t seem like a huge leap that a company like us could offer more diversity in the package you could sign up for, but there’s contractual challenges, strategic challenges, there’s a lot of things that make it difficult to do but we’re still optimistic.

What’s happening with Fox and Disney is interesting. It will take a long time to play out but it will shuffle this all up quite a bit and maybe that will open up an opportunity to the things that were hard to do before.

FierceVideo: I would imagine a priority an entertainment bundle like Philo would be getting other cable networks that fit in, but some of them are difficult to get at because they’re own by broadcasters. Is there for Philo to work around that and add channels like E! and National Geographic without having to add the broadcast nets?

McCollum: We would love to add channels like E!, Bravo, FX, Nat GEO, USA and SyFy. We’d love to add those networks. It is tough because being in those families of networks with sports, news and regional sports, it’s hard to pick and choose. It’s not really how often those companies want to approach the conversation. But we still talk to them a lot about how we can make something work and I think there is an interest and a demand for it. Fundamentally, you have a group of people who are asking for it and it seems like there should be a way they can get the TV service they want.

FierceVideo: When are the social features rolling out on the Philo platform?

McCollum: We wanted to wait until there are more people on the platform to connect and share with. We’ll have to see, since we’ve launched and got a lot of user feedback on things people really want to see like additional platforms and functionality. We’re definitely excited about getting the social functionality released. A lot of us use it internally for testing and we’re still really excited.