CuriosityStream Hits Next Growth Phase

With global platform built for an expanding content library, SVOD service ready to ramp up

CuriosityStream, the subscription video-on-demand service launched about two years ago by cable programming pioneer and Discovery Communications founder John Hendricks, says it is now ready to scale up its subscriber base, and to do so on the global stage.

With its over-the-top platform built and underpinning a growing library of fact-based TV programming focused on science, tech, history and nature, Curiosity-Stream is pivoting toward its first multifaceted global advertising campaign spanning TV and print.

Following its initial beta launch in March of 2015, CuriosityStream has been conducting some “modest” digital advertising and relying on word of mouth, but it’s now ready to take its promotional activities to that next level, Hendricks said.

“Television [advertising] will be the real way we’ll scale up,” he said, referring to some initial ads that use the tagline, “Long Live the Curious.”

The plan is to conduct some “core scale testing” domestically over the next couple of months before shifting to a bigger global campaign that could see spending in the neighborhood of $200,000 per day, Hendricks said, noting that the ads have been getting a good response on such news channels as CNN, Fox News Channel and Bloomberg TV.

AIMING FOR 1 MILLION

CuriosityStream has not announced current subscriber figures (notably, 34% of them are millennials). Hendricks, though, said the goal is to finish the year with “close to 1 million” subscribers, though when it might hit that number will depend on when the service’s global campaign starts to kick in this May or June.

Given CuriosityStream’s global reach and its expected growth rate, Hendricks believes it will have somewhere from 10 million to 20 million subscribers, and possibly more, within about 10 years. As with many of the cable channels he started up, Hendricks expects a four to five year period of investment before CuriosityStream reaches break-even.

Hendricks is likewise confident consumers are thirsting for an ad-free SVOD service full of documentaries and other factual content that they can’t get from traditional cable channels that claim to be focused on those genres, but have increasingly steered the bulk of their programming toward reality TV shows and series.

“It’s saturating the dial,” he said of reality TV. “There’s a real void in the marketplace.”

CuriosityStream has made that point in some of its newspaper ads in national publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, referring to its service as “the antidote to reality TV.”

In addition to ratcheting up its consumer marketing, CuriosityStream will also try to build and expand its subscriber base to lofty levels using the playbook employed successfully by more general entertainment-oriented SVOD services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime — putting a stronger focus on exclusive, original content alongside global distribution.

For content, CuriosityStream has more than 1,700 titles under contract, with 1,500 available to U.S. subscribers and about 1,200 available, on average, in other major markets around the world, including the U.K., Canada, Mexico and Australia.

Though the service is currently available in almost 200 countries, 90% of its present subscriber base is in the U.S.

“We’ll see that start to balance out over the next two to three years,” Hendricks said, predicting that 70% of CuriosityStream’s subscriber base will be from outside the U.S. within a decade. “It’s a global phenomenon.”

CuriosityStream offers almost 250 titles exclusive to the service, including a few it has developed on its own, such as Deep Time History and DIGITS, a series about the history and future of the Internet.

About 20% of the service’s content spending is for originals, but that should reach about 80% within five years, Hendricks said.

“If you have an SVOD platform and you’re solely dependent on airing licensed product, you’re very vulnerable in the marketplace,” Hendricks said. “We know that investing in original content really pays dividends.”

In addition to seeking organic growth on its own, where it retains 100% of the retail pricing, CuriosityStream is also exploring more distribution partnerships that use a revenue-sharing model.

EXPANDING DISTRIBUTION

CuriosityStream is currently offered on Amazon Channels, the SVOD aggregation service for Amazon Prime members, but it has also talked with cable operators about how they might offer Curiosity-Stream effectively at a reduced rate or as part of a bundle.

Hendricks also remains bullish on 4K, which is offered via CuriosityStream’s Premium-level tier that runs $11.99 per month (its standard-definition tier costs $2.99 per month and its HD offering sells for $5.99).

“I think the market is now ripe for the delivery of SVOD 4K services,” he said, adding that he expects to see cable operators put more emphasis on the format with their own 4K channels and support for SVOD services that are delivered in 4K.

CuriosityStream’s future will also include virtual reality. Hendricks said the service has 12 series being produced for VR, with a goal in mind to release one series in VR per month starting sometime in 2018.

“We want to take people to places in the world they may never be able to visit,” he said, citing such examples as the Great Wall of China or Istanbul or the Egyptian pyramids. “VR, I think, has a big future. We’re all learning about it.”