Circle, a country music network and lifestyle, has signed a distribution deal with Redbox’s Free Live TV. This is the fifth big video streaming platform that the one-year old network has signed with in the last five months. In October, Circle became available on Roku Channel, Samsung’s TV Plus, Vizio’s SmartCast, and Comcast-owned Xumo.
The addition of Redbox Free Live TV helped bring Circle, a joint venture between Ryman Hospitality Properties and Atlanta-based Gray Television Inc., to the 100 million potential viewers mark.
Redbox, best known as a DVD-rental kiosk, moved into the streaming field with the free, ad-supported Redbox Free Live TV in February 2020. Free Live TV is available on platforms including Roku, Vizio, LG and Xbox, iOS and Android, as well as most desktop browsers. There's also distribution through Comcast and Dish Network video services.
Circle Network’s general manager, Drew Reifenberger admits that when Circle launched in January 2020, he didn’t expect such rapid growth. But the pandemic and the continuous development of streaming platforms like Redbox Free Live TV allowed Circle to swiftly make inroads with country music fans nationwide.
“People are more watching more TV,” says Reifenberger. “There's no question that had some impact on the usage. No question.”
Circle offers 19 original or exclusive shows, as well as licensed movies, but the channel’s Opry Live put the network on the map. (Ryman Hospitality Properties owns the Opry.) On February 26, Circle premiered Opry, a one-hour show that featured highlights from a previous week’s Grand Ole Opry show in Nashville, Tenn. On March 21, just after the Covid-19 lockdown began, Circle began televising Opry Live -- a one-hour series featuring Grand Ole Opry’s live Saturday night performances sans audience members. Guests included Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley and Garth Brooks.
“This October the Opry will reach 5,000 consecutive broadcasted Saturday nights,” says Reifenberger. “So it was not going dark on our watch. There was going to be a show and fortunately all the artists felt the same way. We did 30 weeks without an audience with tremendous support from the artist community and tremendous feedback from the audience saying, ‘I look forward to this (show) all week.’”
In December Opry Live earned the number one spot on Pollstar’s Top 100 Livestreamers Chart across all genres. According to Pollstar, Opry Live has reached over 50 million views from 50 countries around the world.
“The Grand Ole Opry is the heart of country music and we’re thrilled to add Circle Network to our free streaming service,” Redbox On Demand General Manager Chris Yates said in a press release.
In addition to Opry Live, Circle plays host to original titles including Songs from the Cellar featuring country star Phil Vassar, The Southern Weekend with Natalie Stovall and Upstream with Elizabeth Cook.
Circle, Reifenberger explains, is a way to connect fans with their favorite artists.
“We approach this whole business with the view that we live in an experience economy and audiences today want a much larger experience,” he says. “Audiences say, ‘I'm a fan of this artist and I want to know about their family, their travel, their food, their workouts.’ So I always tell people Circle doesn't play a note of music. Circle is a channel with these different shows that features (artists) -either as guests on a show or hosts. And that’s a way to connect fans with artists.”
Reifenberger, who joined Circle in April 2019, said the creation of the channel was due to 120 million country music fans who were being “underserved.”
“Country music can be misunderstood,” says Reifenberger. “It’s just way more mainstream in the U.S. than I think some media circles think it is. They tend to regionalize it and while there’s no secret that there's a concentration in the Southeast, (country music) is absolutely nationally appreciated and our coverage and usage would absolutely support that.”
Circle’s channel on Redbox is currently live.
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