The lesson of go90

By the time this month is over, go90 will be no more. If you’re like most people you probably clicked on this article because you’ve never heard of go90. The fact that it has almost no mindshare at all and never did is probably the biggest reason it’s disappearing. But, before we say goodbye forever, let’s take a look at what it was, what it was supposed to be, and why in the end AT&T did it better.

It actually started with Intel

At the 2013 CES, Intel started shopping around this photo. It claimed to be “OnCue,” a live TV streaming box with its own service. A lot of people in 2013 were quick to point out that this was way too difficult to do. In 2013 they were right. Although there were rumored to have been beta tests of the product, it never launched and the executive who had shepherded it left Intel, presumably in disgrace.

Part of the problem here is that OnCue was hardware. It was a box, at a time that people were just starting to get other streaming hardware. It came decades after anyone had any hope of impressing anyone with how many little boxes were in their entertainment centers.

The other problem was pricing for the service was probably going to be through the roof. Intel had no experience negotiating provider contracts so they were totally unprepared for the literally thousands of contracts they would have needed. An unprepared lawyer usually loses, let’s leave it at that.

Verizon picks up the pieces

In 2015, Verizon bought the intellectual property from Intel and OnCue became part of their go90 project. I recently found out thanks to an article at The Verge that the name probably referred to people turning their phones at a 90 degree angle to watch. Well, Verizon, if it took me that long to figure it out you probably picked a bad name. That’s all I can tell you.

Go90 was a limited streaming service for Verizon wireless customers that offered a mix of on-demand video and original content. It really never took off for several reasons.

  • People without unlimited data plans were wary of being charged for data. This was back in the days before the rules for zero rating were really laid out. Today it’s pretty clear that AT&T can stream DIRECTV content and not charge its customers. Back then it was a little more confusing.
  • More importantly the content wasn’t that good. You could get much of it from provider apps and the original stuff just didn’t really compel people.
  • Verizon was still rolling out LTE back in 2015 and so not everyone could stream high quality video.
  • Perhaps most interestingly they really didn’t promote go90 at all and that leads me to believe the experience wasn’t that good. I never did get a chance to try it.

It’s interesting to note that AT&T announced a very similar product called DIRECTV Preview back in 2016, after go90 had launched but that product never actually came to market. Instead, we got better access to DIRECTV satellite, DIRECTV NOW live streaming, and most recently AT&T Watch.

AT&T Watch is free to the company’s unlimited customers so it’s probably the closest analog to go90. Except of course, that AT&T Watch has live streaming video and go90 doesn’t.

What’s the lesson?

Verizon spent a decent amount of money to develop a content service and then kept it online for three years. The remaining staff and resources will be reallocated to other places in the big Oath infrastructure which includes engadget.com, Verizon, and AOL. Those folks will find somewhere to land and maybe one day they’ll forget that go90 even existed.

I think there are several lessons here. First of all is that not every dumb product name works. I think with the exception of the huge numbers of marketing companies who contact me, most companies have moved away from dumb names. Calling yourself sockmonkey or Qbist or whatever may have been super-hot in the 2000s but just giving your company or service a dumb name isn’t a pathway to success. Go90 isn’t a bad name when you say it out loud but visually it’s a mess. It just looks like a mistake.

Another lesson is that closed gardens rarely work. Verizon was never going to get wide distribution of its content using just its own cell network. Yes, there are plenty of cases where offering content on just one service does work. Check out DIRECTV’s Audience Network. But you look at the relatively small number of people who watched longform video on a cell phone at that time, and then you restrict it only to Verizon users with good enough data plans. Then cross reference it against places with good cell coverage. It’s just not enough to get people interested.

Will you miss go90?

Obviously very few people are going to mourn the loss of go90 when it shuts down on July 31. Sadly it didn’t even make enough impact to be a cautionary tale. I’m interested in knowing if anyone who got this far in the article had even used the service. Leave a comment below… but I have a feeling there won’t be too many of you.