CuriosityStream Banks on Originals

Original content has become a staple of subscription VOD leaders such as Netflix and Amazon Video, and it’s increasingly becoming a strategic focus for other, more focused over-the-top services trying to expand and retain their customer base.

CuriosityStream, the OTT VOD service launched by Discovery Communications founder John Hendricks, is forging a similar path as it starts to complement a large library of licensed content with a budding mix of original series.

CuriosityStream is starting to push out some of the originals it had initially commissioned when it launched in March 2015. Among that group is Deep Time History, a three-part series released this summer looks at the deeper implications of various topics spanning the rise of civilization, the Age of Discovery, the Industrial Revolution and modern warfare. The more recent original launch from the OTT service is DIGITS, another three-part history that takes a look at the past and future of the Internet, and includes exclusive interviews with whistleblower and privacy advocate Edward Snowden.

In addition to adding exclusive content to its library, a bigger shift toward exclusive content also provides the OTT service with rights to programming for global distribution, CuriosityStream CEO Elizabeth Hendricks North, the daughter of John Hendricks, said.

The service, which currently offers more than 1,500 titles, remains heavily focused on licensed content since it’s less expensive to obtain. However, “having exclusive worldwide rights to content and being able to share that with our community is really important,” North said. “In the long term, they [original programs] are cost-effective.”

The service aims to invest in more “signature pieces” that distinguish CuriosityStream from other nonfiction programming offerings, Hendricks North said.

She estimates that CuriosityStream has about a dozen originals slated for next year, giving it one to focus on each month. Some will be spun off originals that the service has created and have performed well, including Stephen Hawking’s Favorite Places, a series in which the famed physicist and author takes viewers on a trip to black holes and Saturn.

Elsewhere, CuriosityStream is working on improving and enhancing the underpinning service, she said. It is supported on Web browsers, Apple TV, iOS and Android mobile devices, Roku players and Roku TVs, Amazon Fire TV boxes and sticks, and Android TV devices, with plans underway to extend it to Xbox and Play- Station consoles and certain smart TVs.

CuriosityStream hasn’t yet announced a subscriber count, but “we’re pleased with our subscriber count to date,” Hendricks North said, noting that the service’s digital distribution pact with Amazon (for its Streaming Partners Program) has complemented its other direct-to-consumer marketing activity. “We’re on track for our goals for the end of the year.”

She said that 60% of the service’s audience is male, with an average age of 33. The vast majority of CuriosityStream subs take its “Basic” standard-definition ($2.99 per month) service or “Standard” HD-level ($5.99 per month) tier, and have not yet gravitated to its “Premium” 4K-supported service ($11.99) in great numbers yet.

And while free, ad-supported OTT services like Crackle, Tubi TV and a new one from Vudu continue to show promise, CuriosityStream is sticking with an SVOD-only model for now.

Hendricks North said CuriosityStream has given some thought about offering a subset of its content for free. “But we really like the ad-free model and the subscription model,” she said. “That’s been working quite well for us so far.”