The Rundown: ‘Verizon is here to stay. Go90 might not be.’

In this week’s Rundown, we examine the murky future of Verizon’s Go90, the cultural challenges of publishers’ pivot to memberships and the problem of sexual harassment in advertising.

Verizon’s Go90: Going, going, gone?
Verizon may have grand ambitions in becoming a video distributor and media company, but the future prospects of its first big bet in over-the-top video are less clear.

Multiple media companies and studios that have sold shows to Go90 are not sure whether the service will be around — at least in its current form — by the end of next year. Several of them described a situation where Verizon and Go90 executives are once again going back to the drawing board to figure out what, exactly, the platform wants to be. As such, multiple sources have recently told me the Go90 team is not buying as much content as it used to. One Hollywood agent said Go90 has hit pause on spending “until they figure things out.” Over the past two years, Verizon has spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying content for the platform.

Go90 has done a poor job of marketing a lot of this content, leading to abysmal viewership, sources said. One Verizon insider described a situation where Go90 would market only one show every quarter, even though the platform would premiere dozens of new programs across a variety of genres. The ones that received attention tended to do well, he said, but that’s no way to build a consistent audience for a mass-media streaming platform. He added that it’s likely Verizon and Go90 pull back on how many original shows they commission and look to put more marketing behind a smaller number of shows.

Go90’s struggles can be attributed to the simple fact that there’s no clear reason for it to exist. No one is asking for another streaming platform with the best short- and mid-form video from top digital media companies, studios and creators. That already exists on YouTube. If people want true, TV-quality fare, there’s Netflix, Amazon and Hulu.

That’s a tough pill to swallow for many in the digital media industry. As one studio executive told me during the Digiday Video Anywhere Summit: “[Go90] has to succeed; they have to — for us.”

But as another Go90 original content partner at DVAS put it, quite succinctly: “Verizon is here to stay. Go90 might not be.” — Sahil Patel

Pivot to culture change
Publishers are accepting the reality that they have to look to consumer revenue if they want to survive, given Google’s and Facebook’s dominance over digital advertising. That’s easier said than done. Publishers need to give readers a product they can’t find anywhere else. Traditional publishers don’t have the skill sets needed to run a sophisticated subscription operation, so they have to hire them. Perhaps hardest of all, they have to change the culture. As Mary Walter-Brown, CEO of the News Revenue Hub, which is helping publishers develop membership programs, told me, publishers need to explain why they need readers’ help, which requires showing vulnerability — something that’s not in most publishers’ DNA. “We’re great at telling other people’s stories, but we’re not great at telling our own story,” she said. People also have to trust a media outlet if they’re going to pay up, which means that in a time when less than half of the public tells Gallup they trust and have confidence in the mass media, publishers have a lot of work to do. — Lucia Moses

The Weinstein effect
I’ve spent the last week talking to over a dozen women about their experiences with sexual harassment in ad agencies. Most agreed that there may not be more Harvey Weinsteins in this industry than others, but factors within agencies — partying, alcohol, transience and a generally high tolerance for assholes — make sexual harassment more common and likelier to not be addressed. Since the article was published, more women have reached out. One woman’s comment, which brought up a point the story didn’t address, was particularly interesting: This woman, who detailed numerous times she felt she’d been harassed both sexually and non-sexually, said a large reason this happens in advertising is that agencies are paid to generalize. Think of it this way: Advertising is all about demographics and numbers. When your job entails anticipating behaviors of groups based on attributes like age, gender or race, it carries over into how you perceive people in general. The woman said this attitude is more likely to be reflected in how male creatives think of women: “It’s hot or not hot. Old or young. They cast people in certain roles based on how they think those people should be or act,” she wrote. “We’re in a business that generalizes for a living. That has a lot of negative effects.” — Shareen Pathak

Digiday+ member event: Digiday Podcast Live
We are holding our first live podcast on Dec. 5 at Vox Media’s offices in New York City. There, I’ll interview Vox Media CMO Lindsay Nelson at 6pm. Lindsay and I will discuss the pivot to video, building modern media brands that are sustainable, and whether platforms are friends or foes. We have tickets to the event available exclusively to Digiday+ members. Please RSVP here. — Brian Morrissey

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