Surviving the Streaming Shakeout

PASADENA, Calif. — CuriosityStream chairman and founder John Hendricks made waves at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour with his prediction of the coming “streaming wars” that will eventually winnow the field of subscription video-on-demand services competing for consumer dollars.

Clint Stinchcomb

Clint Stinchcomb

Hendricks said CuriosityStream, his factual content subscription service, will be one of the players left standing when the shakeout ends. The $2.99-per-month offering, which reached 1 million subscribers last year, comprises more than 2,000 technology, nature and science-themed titles.

CuriosityStream has secured $140 million in new private funding from such investors as Blum Capital Ventures and TimesSquare Capital Management to fuel its next growth phase in terms of original programming and global marketing, president and CEO Clint Stinchcomb said.

Stinchcomb spoke with Multichannel News about the service’s continued evolution, his thoughts about the future of content distribution, and the big “washout” ahead for in the sector. The interview was edited for space and style reasons.

MCN: John Hendricks talked about the beginning of the streaming wars on the emerging digital platforms. How do you see that oncoming battle affecting the traditional cable business in terms of its future viability?
Clint Stinchcomb: 
John Malone says your advantage today and potentially forever is connectivity. If [cable operators] embrace connectivity and offer every service of consequence, but not too many services, then they will be well-positioned. What they have to figure out is, how do they leverage connectivity better than they are today? I think over time, we’ll see these mature network groups either get dropped in their entirety or lose carriage for some of their lesser channels. We’re already seeing that outside the U.S., and we’ve been the beneficiary of that in places. All the guys are looking to reduce their fixed costs on the content side and over time, I think, they will look to embrace the new technologies like 4K. It’ll be managing a business that’s declining, but at the same time there are some real opportunities.

MCN: Where does CuriosityStream fit in today’s distribution environment?
What we have today is a pure factual service, and we say that we’re programming to the full factual category — science, history, technology, lifestyle — with over 2,000 titles and growing. So many networks that started with factual programming tended to move away from that and embrace reality programming, so that created a big opening for something that was purely factual. We think through this combination of quality and quantity we’ll be in pretty good shape if we continue to stick to our knitting.

MCN: How do you break through the clutter of a very crowded content distribution marketplace?
There are a lot of networks in the space, but [factual programming] is all we do — it’s not something we do on the side. If we can create programming that is breakthrough quality, we’ll be in pretty good shape. Again, there are a lot of people in the space, but at the same time we don’t feel it’s a zero-sum game. A lot of networks are going to wash out, and I really feel that if you’re not one of the four, five, six big streamers and you have a service that’s $5 or more, you’re probably not going to grow. We have a very digestible price point which enables us to sell CuriosityStream to consumers, to MVPDs and to educational institutions, so we’re pushing aggressively on the distribution side.

MCN: More than half of CuriosityStream’s audience is made up of hard-to-reach millennials. What are the keys to appealing to that vital audience segment?
For one, it’s easy to sign up — just go to and sign up. Also, of our more than 2,000 titles, about a third of them are short-form titles of 15 minutes or less. Those are digestible bits that millennials are consuming. We’ll launch soon a modern newsmagazine series that will feature nine-minute segments on the topics of the day, like “what is blockchain?” Most people don’t know exactly what that is. I think things like that attract millennials.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.