Can Comcast’s New YouTube Rival Save Cable TV?

Watchable may feature content from Vice and BuzzFeed, but drawing users away from YouTube or Hulu will be a real challenge.

Introducing Comcast Watchable.

Introducing Watchable.

After months of rumors, Comcast has officially launched Watchable, it’s new YouTube-esc web video service.

Still in beta-testing mode, Watchable certainly has a cool factor, featuring videos from hip content partners like Buzzfeed, Vice, PopSugar and Red Bull. It can be viewed in three ways: On an iOS device, on or via the X1 set top box. It’s all free because Watchable is entirely supported by advertisements.

In a blog post announcing Watchable, Sam Schwartz, chief business development officer of Comcast Cable said: “We want people to try Watchable and tell us what they think. Over time, we’ll add additional network partners, make the experience more personalized, and include new options to share content with friends.”

Can it save the cable industry — currently hurting because so many people are cutting the cord or never signing up in the first place? Depends who you ask.

It certainly has one very big positive — it’s content partners will be exposed to Comcast’s 22 million cable TV subscribers. “Many of our Watchable partners have not traditionally had distribution on the TV and we can give them a path to reach new audiences and further monetize their content on the biggest screen in the home,” said Schwartz in his blog post.

But will viewers turn to Watchable over stalwarts like YouTube and Hulu? TechCrunch doesn’t think so.

“At present, there’s not a super-compelling hook to get these viewers to change their established behavior. … Watchable, for now, feels like more of a “me-too” effort from Comcast. At best, it’s a plus for those who haven’t yet ditched pay TV, as the set-top box integration means there’s a more convenient way to view content from favorite online networks in your living room.”

Meanwhile, Variety says “whether [Comcast subscribers will] really have an ongoing urge to watch shorter, made-for-digital material through Comcast’s Watchable funnel is not at all obvious. Meanwhile, the value-added lure for non-Comcast users is supposedly that they can browse a collection of professionally produced content that’s been aggregated and organized by category or playlist. The question is whether there’s enough there to produce a big and active viewer base to make advertising on Watchable a workable proposition.”

But it should be easy for Comcast to attract other content producers to Watchable. Variety reports that Comcast is “said to be offering a 70 percent share of Watchable video-ad revenue, far bigger than the 45 percent revshare from YouTube and Facebook.”

Meanwhile, says its just another way that cable TV operators are changing their advertising revenue models — gradually adopting more data-driven techniques. “Inclusions of dynamic ad-insertion, targeted audience advertising and data-driven TV advertisements are steps forward in the same direction,” it said.

Other Watchable content partners are: AwesomenessTV, CelebTV, Collective Digital Studio, Defy Media, Discovery Digital Networks, Fast Company, Flama, Future Today, GarageMonkey, GoPro, Jukin Media, Machinima, Maker Studios, Mashable, Mic Media, NBCUniversal, Network A, Newsy, The Onion, Red Bull, Refinery29, Scripps Networks Interactive, Tastemade, TEN, TYT Network, Video Detective and Vox.

The news follows a slew of moves by Comcast to enhance its digital portfolio. The cable giant recently invested $200 million in Vox Media (owners of SB Nation, Polygon, The and others) and $250 million in BuzzFeed. It also announced a $15-per-month streaming video service called Comcast Stream, set to debut in early 2016.