A Facebook Founder Focuses on TV

By Trevor Ballantyne
BU News Service

Andrew McCollum

Six years ago when Andrew McCollum started a streaming TV service called Philo he did so out of the dissatisfaction with watching TV. “We were all used to using apps like Spotify and others where the search works really well, where the interface is really clean, it’s fairly priced, there’s no contracts or hidden fees, or surprises. You can use it on any device you have,” McCollum, a co-founder of Facebook said in an interview on the sidelines of CES 2018 on Tuesday.

McCollum felt that none of these features existed in the television industry, so he and his team started Philo. For $20 per month, users can watch 46 channels – including Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, and Viceland – on their devices. Philo differentiates itself by not including sports in their lineup. “If you are a typical cable subscriber you are probably paying somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 to 15 dollars per month for ESPN. We wanted to create something that gave you a different choice.”

The company originally targeted college campuses but has spread its offerings to a larger market by offering an Over The Top (OTT) streaming service available to any user who decides to “cut the cord” from traditional cable offerings from companies like Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon. A  satisfaction survey conducted by the website 247 Wall Street found Comcast to be “the most hated” company in America, “TV companies are the most hated companies in the country,” McCollum said while describing the appeal of Philo to its users: “We just try to have better service and be as transparent and straightforward as possible.”

In addition to traditional cable providers, Philo competes with a bevy of streaming services such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu. Like these major players, Philo will have to grapple with the recent FCC repeal of net neutrality rules. While there has been no effect on Philo’s operations so far, McCollum said the repeal is “definitely not good,” and expressed concern over the prospects of the government’s decision on his company. “We are sort of the poster child for the type of company that net neutrality rules are supposed to protect because video bandwidth is intensive and susceptible to being de-prioritized.”

Despite this uncertainty, McCollum is bullish on his company’s offerings and sees opportunity in the television industry.  “There has never been more great TV content than there is now. It’s sort of like a golden age for TV.” But don’t expect Philo to take the lead from Netflix in creating original content anytime soon. “Our feeling is that we would rather focus on being the best product and platform, the best technology, U.I., and experience and partner with people who have very good content rather than trying to produce the content ourselves.”

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