Algorithms, like Netflix’s recommendation engine, have been the secret sauce for streaming television, turning viewers on to shows they never knew they liked. But the power of human suggestions — or what used to be known as the water cooler — might be coming back, thanks to a new streaming service started by an ex-Facebook founder that’s launching Tuesday.
Philo costs $16 a month and includes more than 35 channels from A+E, AMC Networks, Discovery, Scripps and Viacom — who are also strategic investors in the company. The service is available nationwide and on most major streaming platforms, including iOS, Android (through the Chrome browser, for now), Apple TV and Roku.
“That’s really something we learned at Facebook,” Philo CEO Andrew McCollum, a college classmate of Mark Zuckerberg and member of the social network’s founding team, told TheWrap. “Social connection brings this powerful new context. Even if the information is the same, I have a different way to connect to it rather than some algorithm spitting it out.”
Philo started as an internet TV service for college campuses, where McCollum said the company was able to cobble together own packages without having to negotiate a complex web of rights — and get a firsthand look into consumer behavior from the prime cord-cutting demographic.
“We created these little [over-the-top] bundles on campus,” he said.
Philo used the data and feedback from that experience to launch its national service, deciding to start with an entertainment-focused bundle that isn’t duplicated by other internet TV offerings like Sling TV and YouTube TV. And no surprise given McCollum’s Facebook background — there’s a big social element in Philo’s content discovery system.
“We wanted to build the first social TV experience,” McCollum said. “Television is the most social form of media out there.”
However, there’s no social functionality available on Philo just yet. For now, it looks like most other streaming services, albeit with a channel guide rotated 90 degrees from the traditional perspective and a relatively minimalist interface. Social features will launch early next year, but the company won’t roll them all out at once though – McCollum wants to wait to build up a more substantial user base.
One of those features lets friends see what shows you’re watching – and even where you’re at in the program, allowing friends to sync up and watch a “Daily Show” sketch together. It might seem like too much information at first, but then again, we share a lot more about much more personal things on social media all the time. And who knows – maybe seeing your “all business” friend catching up on reality TV makes guilty pleasures feel a little less guilty.
That level of sharing might be shockingly new for TV, but kind of natural from a team that mostly got its start outside the traditional establishment.
“A significant majority of people in the company had no TV background when they joined,” McCollum said. “We come from a new perspective in that way.”