Pop Network Starts to Find Its Fans

A year into its rebirth as Pop, the channel formerly called TV Guide Network continues to add original programming, its biggest show thus far being comedy Schitt’s Creek, returning March 16 for a second season. Other returners include the rock-cruise show Rock This Boat: New Kids on the Block, the Alan Thicke reality show Unusually Thicke; and the a capella singing competition Sing It On. Easiest Game Show Ever, hosted by Michael Ian Black, launches Jan. 22. Pop claims eight consecutive quarters of year-over-year gains, including a 30% lift in primetime among the core audience of women age 25-54 in fourth-quarter 2015. And it is adding distributors, with new ones this quarter lifting Pop to about 83 million homes from about 74 million now. Pop president Brad Schwartz talked up the fan-culture-based entertainment channel with Multichannel News editor Kent Gibbons and programming editor R. Thomas Umstead in New York, ahead of Pop’s Jan. 12 presence with CBS at the Television Critics Association tour in Pasadena, Calif. (CBS and Lionsgate own Pop.) Here are some edited highlights.

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MCN:We hear you are adding new distributors.

Brad Schwartz: In the New Year, we’ll be adding over 8 million homes. What I think is really interesting about that is — the story that’s driving the dialogue in our business these days is how many people are losing subs. You read about ESPN losing 4 million subs, and it affects the stock price of 10 companies, and it’s just insane. So for an emerging network like ours to actually be gaining subs, I think it’s actually a story that is unique. We’ll be launching on Cablevision Jan. 16. We’ll be launching on WideOpenWest on Feb. 1 and we’ll be launching on AT&T U-verse on March 1. All top-10 distributors will carry us on digital basic or greater. That’s an exciting place to jump off of as we approach our first year as Pop. [Editor’s note: GCI in Alaska dropped Pop on Jan. 1, but RCN and Grande will add it later this year, the network said.]

MCN:What else is resonating with distributors?

BS: We’re very efficient. That certainly resonates with distributors. When you look at ratings per sub fee on every single distributor … we are either one of the top five or, at worst, top 10 most valuable networks. We think we provide a great product for the sub fee that they are paying.

MCN:Do you think the audience has a good sense by now of what Pop is?

BS: I think we have had a very, very successful first year. Rebrands are difficult, and a lot of times when you rebrand you take a step backwards in order to take steps forward. We’re proud to say in our first quarter we went up. I think we had a respect for how do we retain the audiences we already have while building something new. So it’s been a great year, but I think we still have a long way to go. There are still millions of people out there that have not heard of the channel. But what I know from just the results and statistics and everything, the people that have found the channel are enjoying the channel. Our length of tune is up; our frequency is up; our new viewership is up — all three things that create a Nielsen point.

MCN:Do you gain from cross-promotion by CBS?

BS: I have lots of conversations with the Showtime guys — I’m like, how do you get spots on CBS? Those are huge businesses, and if there’s promo time available, they have huge businesses to take care of. But they have been very, very supportive. We get a lot of support from CBS Digital. Like when we launched Schitt’s Creek last year, CBS has this Times Square billboard over by the Port Authority [Bus Terminal in New York], they gave us inventory on there. They give us a lot of VOD advertising through all of their VOD platforms. I haven’t gotten a spot for us on the network yet — not that I haven’t asked — but they are very supportive.

MCN:You’ve added TNA’sImpact Wrestling. How does that fit in with the rest of Pop?

BS: It’s funny, when that opportunity came by, your first reaction is, “Wrestling?” And then when you really start digging into it, it’s like, OK, we’ve built this very passionate, exciting brand where we like to say it’s all about the fans. That’s the personality. Our personality is not housewives or rich kids; it’s fans. If we’re going to talk passionately about being a network for fans, that champions fans that go to music festivals like Coachella or fans that go to Comic-Con or fans that go to New Kids on the Block cruises, if that’s going to be the personality, then why can’t we also champion these amazing wrestling fans?