CuriosityStream, the fact-based streamer started by Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks, makes its debut on the NASDAQ stock market Oct. 15, under the symbol CURI, the result of its merger with Software Acquisition Group, which valued the company at about $331 million. CuriosityStream CEO Clint Stinchomb and chief product officer and executive VP of content strategy Devin Emery spoke with Multichannel News about the future for CuriousityStream. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: Now that you’re going to be public, does that take the pressure of having to raise money off of you and let you focus on growing the business?
Clint Stinchcomb: Any time you’re in a startup media company, there are a lot of long days and long nights. Certainly in the early days — I joined in mid-2017 — I slept more than a few nights on the couch. At the same time, we were all the beneficiaries of John Hendricks’ underwriting of the company, his strong belief and commitment.
It’s important to have someone with the grand vision. When you can combine that vision and belief with a strong, bottom-up, focused management team, then you’ve really got something. Then, when you inject resources into the company as well, then you’ve really got something that’s special. Some of this will be a function of the redemptions, but we don’t anticipate having to raise money beyond this transaction. And frankly we’re quite excited. We don’t have any big M&A in our growth plan, but we do believe that there’ll be a bit of carnage over the next couple of years with smaller companies. And we’ll be opportunistic as it relates to that as well.
We’re optimistic as more people hear the story and we deliver results, it will be a massive growth opportunity for CuriosityStream. We’re the only pure-play factual streaming service today, and we have a global focus. A lot of people talk about going global; it’s not a simple proposition. A lot of times, you can’t control content rights across the world. The nice thing is when John started CuriosityStream, he started off global from day one. We’re in 175 countries with our direct service. We’ve got a distributed service in 83 countries and five languages.
MCN: Where do you see the biggest opportunity?
CS: We see lots of upside with our direct service, especially now that we will be able to allocate more marketing dollars toward that [and] that we have greater general awareness of the service. Additional awareness will come just as a function of being a public company. At the top, we see a great opportunity with our direct service — minimal competition and we’re global. And we’ve not marketed the service aggressively internationally, even though we have a lot of subscribers internationally. Now that we have our content in multiple languages, that’s something you will see us start to do a bit more next year.
After that, we see a lot of opportunities with global wireless providers. Wireless providers don’t want to be left out of the streaming revolution, that’s why you’re seeing bundling constructs like Disney Plus and ESPN Plus with Verizon; T-Mobile with Netflix. We see some mutually fruitful partnerships there. And beyond the wireless providers, with traditional distributors like cable operators and direct-to-home providers. They don’t want to be left out of the streaming revolution either. We see increased bundling relationships there. That’s a path that gets you to hundreds of millions of subscribers. I think that’s a strategy that the most successful streaming services will all leverage. At the same time you have to be mindful of the impact that has on your other businesses. But I think if you have a service that the big distributors would like to bundle, that’s a big opportunity for them and for us.
You’ll read about some interesting
things later that we’re doing with associations, big memberships groups, most located in the [Washington] D.C. area. We also see considerable growth on the brand partnership side.
The last piece is program sales. That takes two forms, either offering up to a company some collection of CuriosityStream titles, and/or presales of content to big media partners for parts of the world we’re not able to fully monetize yet.
MCN: Are you in active talks with wireless companies?
MCN: Are you confident you’ll have
a bundling relationship with one of them soon?
CS: We have almost 20 different bundled agreements with distributors around the world, mostly cable and satellite. If you look over the world, there are so many wireless providers. That would be a yes, you’ll see CuriosityStream and wireless partnerships.
MCN: Wireless partnerships were a big boost for domestic streamers like Disney Plus, with Verizon. It seems that the biggest benefit is that they give consumers a chance to see what a service does without having to put up any upfront money.
CS: I couldn’t agree more. And interestingly enough, we have a guy like Linsday Gardner helping us with that. He was head of distribution at Fox and most recently was chief content officer at T-Mobile. He’s working with us on an advisory basis with a focus on [wireless]. We’ve been approached by a number of wireless distributors, and we’re trying to be thoughtful about the right construct going forward.
MCN: You mentioned international.
Do you see that as being the bigger market for you?
CS: Absolutely. We have more subscribers today outside the U.S. than we have inside. And we have more revenue coming from North America. I think over time, the majority of our subscribers will come from outside the U.S. and the majority of our revenue will come from outside the U.S. It’s just a much bigger world and factual content travels well. An atom is an atom wherever you are. Saturn is Saturn and an alligator is the same to a 12-year-old girl in India as it is to a 55-year-old ironworker in Indiana. That’s the magic of it.
MCN: In the past, streamers were adamant about being commercial free. But recently you’ve had Peacock come out with an ad-supported model, and analysts seem to believe that may be the better way to address the market, especially since younger viewers seem more open to ads if it will keep prices down. What’s your take on that?
CS: It’s much harder to build a subscription business. That’s what we’ve been focused on, building a great subscription business with premium factual content. However, we never want to trade dollars for dimes — there are a lot of people going to AVOD because there is no barrier to entry, it’s a lot easier to jump into that than it is to create a compelling proposition that people will pay you for. The answer is, yes, you’ll see us move into that in a very thoughtful way. In some cases even with other partners.
Devin Emery: We are going to look at how we build our brands so that the core of what we are is the streaming service CuriosityStream, but we are also a media company that is going to have a lot of different relationships. So there is absolutely a path forward for us to have relationships with audiences that exist on platforms that are ad-supported as well as our subscription service. There are a lot of different ways we can play with that together. Obviously we are not going to do anything to cannibalize the subscription service. Working within the sphere of part audience development, part marketing, there is a lot we can do that is going to be able to grow our ability to monetize through those platforms while continuing to grow the direct subscription service.
MCN: CuriosityStream was a pioneer in taking the idea of brand sponsorships to another level. Can you tell me what you’re doing on that front?
DE: When we are thinking about brand partnerships, we are investing a lot of money into really high-quality programming. There’s a lot of content we’re creating to integrate systemic brands into that content. We’re going to be covering technology that companies are creating, so there’s a lot of opportunities to integrate partners into that content and then create a crossplatform branded partnership plan that has that integration. But then we can create more specific content that focuses in on their individual technology and then promote that across a lot of different platforms. We have hundreds of thousands of followers on Facebook and Instagram and YouTube and all of these other platforms where we are growing this audience, where we can create content specifically meant to be focused on a brand partnership as well as the media we’re running across TV, radio, audio. We’re not going to push a ton of ads into our service — that’s not something we’re interested in doing and the audience isn’t interested in doing. But we can have light-touch brand partnerships within our service and then create wide-reaching plans that are going to allow us to integrate them into something that is bigger.
MCN: LightShed Partners did a study that 83% of streaming viewership is tied up in five services — Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Hulu and Disney Plus — and everybody else has to fight for the remainder. How do you differentiate yourself?
CS: We don’t look at the world like that, as a zero-sum game. If we are able to continue to build the most reliable destination for pure factual content and a brand that communicates that, then we’re going to have a great business. There are lots and lots and lots of different metrics that people will throw out in this business. We’re focused on the true North Star metrics of revenue and subscribers.
DE: What it shows is that people are looking to be able to easily browse for content. The two that make up the most of share are the two services that people generally default to if they’re looking for something. One of the things that we’re really focused on is that we are that for factual. There is not another service, Netflix included, YouTube included, any of the services included that you can just go to and find the factual content that you want. Factual is a massive category. What it says to me is that the general entertainment programmers are battling for the specific content. They all have strong IP, but the smaller ones are not getting nearly as much of the ‘I-want-to-find-something’ traffic that the defaults are getting right now. That is going to change.
What we’re building is the default for factual. If you’re looking for a documentary or a factual piece of content that is history, science, technology, you name it, we are the default that you’re going to go into. We are going to take that general behavior that is taking up so much share, and create it for a category that is massive but not currently served. λ
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Mike Farrell is senior content producer, finance for Multichannel News/B+C, covering finance, operations and M&A at cable operators and networks across the industry. He joined Multichannel News in September 1998 and has written about major deals and top players in the business ever since. He also writes the On The Money blog, offering deeper dives into a wide variety of topics including, retransmission consent, regional sports networks,and streaming video. In 2015 he won the Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Profile, an in-depth look at the Syfy Network’s Sharknado franchise and its impact on the industry.
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