Sports-Free Bundle Philo Enters Crowded OTT Fray With Roku App

Philo, a general entertainment, skinny-bundle service with a track record on college campuses, is launching nationally today with a TV option designed for viewers fed up with bearing the escalating cost of sports rights fees.

While it won’t deliver viewers their football fix, Philo has programming deals and $25 million in investment from five top programming groups, including A+E Networks, AMC Networks, Discovery Communications, Scripps Networks Interactive and Viacom. Channels in its bundle include household names like Discovery Channel, AMC, HGTV, A&E and Comedy Central. Discovery boss David Zaslav has predicted the rollout of entertainment-focused services, as legacy networks like ESPN suffer subscriber erosion and create resentment among distributors and many customers for the high costs stemming from rights deals with the NBA, NFL and other leagues.

Zaslav’s ballpark estimate last spring was $10 a month, but Philo is starting with a $16 package of 37 channels, with an optional $4 charge for a tier of nine additional networks. At launch, the company’s app is available on Roku, iOS mobile apps and most web browsers. An Android mobile app will launch soon and other distribution outlets are said to be on the way.

Among the 46 total networks offered at launch, the only ones offered outside of the five cable programmers are Cheddar (a digital business network that describes itself as “post-cable”), GSN and BBC World News.

In 2018, Philo plans to add a social-media dimension to the service, pledging to make watching TV “a shared
social experience for the first time.” The move is a logical step for the company, which is led by CEO Andrew McCollum, who was an early Facebook employee. As YouTube and Facebook continue their aggressive moves in the TV space and the OTT landscape fairly saturated, Philo will face some headwinds out of the gate but is betting on its innovative and intuitive user interface and price point well south of cable packages or other skinny TV offerings.

Named for television inventor Philo T. Farnsworth, the company made its initial reputation on college campuses, a hotbed of cord-cutting. Prior to the entry of its five main cable network partners, Philo had previously gotten investments from HBO, WME, Mark Cuban’s Radical Investments, New Enterprise Associates, Rho Ventures, XFund and CBC New Media Group.

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