Hendricks Brings Sponsored Ads to CuriosityStream

CuriosityStream founder John Hendricks believes he has cracked the code for OTT services, adding a new twist to a practice established during the first Golden Age of Television – sponsored programming – but using those sponsors to help promote the service and drive viewers and subscribers through traditional pay TV and online media.

Hendricks, who founded Discovery Communications in the 1980s, is no stranger to innovation. But with CuriosityStream, the educational OTT service he founded three years ago – he believes he finally has the one-two punch that will help usher in a new era of streaming content.

“The big news for us is this other model, bringing sponsors who are desperate to get at the missing users who are abandoning linear,” Hendricks said. “When [consumers] are watching Netflix or Amazon Prime, they’re outside the advertising universe, they [advertisers] can’t reach them. What we’ve tried to do is develop a way that the advertisers can work through us to get to those missing viewers, who are some of the most valuable viewers on television.”

SVOD is attractive to advertisers because most young, affluent viewers are watching less and less linear TV.

“If you’re a [car maker], you’ve got to get to them,” Hendricks said. “And your spots just aren’t reaching them on cable.”

CuriosityStream under the impetus of former CBS and Discovery ad sales chief Joe Abbruzzese, who signed on as a special adviser to the service in April, is securing six major sponsors for its programming – Sprint is first out of the blocks – for its factual documentary/science/nature/innovation programming service.

Other advertisers in the automotive, banking and financial services, insurance, energy, aerospace and pharmaceuticals are expected to follow before the end of the year.

According to Hendricks, each advertiser will be the exclusive advertiser for their respective genre channel. Aside from 15-second spots before each program, these advertisers also will promote CuriosityStream through their own advertising on their own websites.

Sprint Theater will debut on Aug.2 and will feature the original CuriosityStream series DIGITS.

“What we’ve been working hard on for the last six to eight months, is how would you integrate sponsored revenue in the world of streaming on demand, where the consumer doesn’t want to watch commercials?” Hendricks said in an interview. “Joe [Abbruzzese] and I made the rounds, at the top levels of agencies, and also going to clients. They’re all just ready for it, because they know they missed the wagon on Netflix – you can’t buy a sponsorship on Netflix. They know they missed the wagon on Netflix.”

To help drive interest in the channel, CuriosityStream is offering a free version of the service on the web – Curiosity Showcase – that hopefully will whet viewers’ appetites with 18 CuriosityStream titles and sponsored content.

Hendricks’ streaming service is already available as an SVOD product on several traditional pay TV offerings from Comcast, Cox Communications, Dish Network and less traditional outlets like Sling TV, StarHub in Singapore, Amazon’s Prime Video Channels, Sprint Mobile TV, Apple TV, Samsung, Roku, LG, Sony, VIZIO, VRV, YouTube TV and others. The service claims that more than 9 million unique visitors have sampled its online platform and over 900,000 global consumers are now paying subscribers either directly or through bundled packages offered by distributors.

Streaming TV, in Hendricks’ view, is the third revolution of television – first was broadcast in the 1940s and 1950s, followed by cable television in the 70s and 80s. The third wave, according to a white paper (Undeniable and Unstoppable) Hendricks wrote on the subject, began in 2007, when Netflix introduced true streaming SVOD. Now Netflix has 120 million global subscribers – 56 million in the U.S. – and according to some analysts could reach 300 million global customers in the next eight years.

Hendricks sees CuriosityStream’s new sponsor plan as the future of streaming TV, and with his track record, it would be wise to listen. Each show will be preceded by a “non-skippable” 15-second pre-roll featuring sponsor messages, but the core content will be without commercial interruption.

CuriosityStream plans an ad blitz to promote the service – it is using the same ad agency as its exclusive sponsors to get the word out through broadcast, cable and digital media.

“Cable news networks work very well for us,” Hendricks said of potential advertising outlets. “We’re using the promotional power of or sponsors.”

This new relationship also will allow Hendricks and CuriosityStream to lower consumer prices. The SVOD service is currently available for $5.99 per month but Hendricks said the plan is to reduce the cost to the consumer to $19.99 for a yearly subscription or for $2.99 per month.

“Our streaming service which offers premium programs across the entire category of factual entertainment is riding the unstoppable wave of Internet-delivered SVOD television that is sweeping the planet,” said CuriosityStream president Clint Stinchcomb in a statement. “Driven by the undeniable, widespread, and accelerated consumer demand for high-quality content that can be enjoyed at any time and without commercial interruptions, CuriosityStream is taking new steps today that are designed to take full advantage of this third revolution of television that offers control to consumers far beyond what was available in the previous broadcast and cable television eras.”