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Three reasons Seeso was destined to fail

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After just 20 months, NBC’s comedy SVOD service Seeso is shutting down. Here are three reasons why Seeso was doomed from the start, and why fans of the originals it provided can breathe easy.

NBC announced Wednesday that it plans to shut down its comedy SVOD service Seeso later this year. Seeso opened its doors to beta customers in December 2015 and went into full release in January 2016. It expanded distribution through Amazon Channels and with VRV. However, the service failed to gain traction. NBC laid off some Seeso staff in June.

Too much content duplication

Though the service added exclusive titles like HarmonQuest and The Cyanide and Happiness Show, there wasn’t enough original content to attract and keep a large subscriber base. Here’s a quote from a piece I wrote on October 21st, 2015, six weeks before Seeso’s release:

Consider NBC’s just announced SeeSo comedy service. For $3.99 a month, subscribers get access to many of NBC’s extensive comedy shows, and some exclusives like Monty Python and an as-yet-to-be announced original series. The problem is much of the content in the service is already available elsewhere.

30 Rock is available on Netflix, Amazon, M-Go, VuDu, and maybe a whole bunch of other places. On Netflix, the show is free with a subscription, while Amazon, M-Go, and VuDu offer the episodes for $2 or $3 each, or you can buy the season. Things are even more difficult for an old NBC comedy like Mad About You. Season 1 is available for free ad-supported on Crackle, Seasons 2 and 4 aren’t available on any of the mainstream sites, and Season 3 is available on Amazon for $1.99 an episode.

Should have been ad-supported

At the time of Seeso’s launch, there was a huge rush by traditional content providers to get SVOD services into the market. NBC got caught up in that fervor and cobbled together Seeso from mostly library content. As I said about Seeso in another piece on ad-supported online models from December 2015:

“Placing a subscription barrier in front of the content, much of which is available elsewhere seems like it could be a tough sell with potential viewers.”

Simply put, NBC overvalued its comedy library. That is not to say that the content is valueless. Far from it. An ad-supported model likely would have been far more effective at realizing value from the shows it had at hand. Moreover, that would have given it time to build a sizable audience, develop more originals, and even introduce a premium ad-free tier for committed users.

$4-a-month is a difficult price point

It is tough to make money at $4-a-month. SVOD services are very cheap to run, particularly if they leverage library content that has no costs associated with it. However, there are still some unavoidable costs. There are the streaming costs to be paid. Subscriber acquisition costs (SAC) are much lower for SVOD services than traditional pay TV but are likely still in the $20-30 range. Even assuming Seeso’s SAC is at the low end, a subscriber needs to stick around for at least five months to cover that cost. Given as many as half sign up for a service with the intention of canceling within six months this could be a huge problem. There are many other costs like credit card charge backs and support costs to cover.

One way to handle this is to encourage people to sign up for longer than a month, but Seeso never did this. Simply put, even if Seeso had been a success, it may still have never made a profit at $4-a-month

Originals will live on in VRV

For those that did come to Seeso and enjoyed the original content, there is good news. Most of these shows will continue to be available from Seeso’s partner VRV. HarmonQuest season 1 and the upcoming season 2, My Brother, My Brother and Me, Hidden America with Jonah Ray, and The Cyanide and Happiness Show are all available now on the new VRV Select channel.

Why it matters

Seeso launched in the rush by TV providers to get an SVOD offering into the market.

Too little exclusive content meant there was not enough value to justify $4-a-month.

Much of the content available could also be found in other services.

At such a low price even a successful service would struggle to make money.

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