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Upfronts 2017: Pop Bucks Cable Trends By Growing Audience

At a time when many smaller networks are getting winnowed out, Pop says it is thriving.

Three years after being rebranded from the TV Guide Channel, Pop says it is adding distribution, viewers and advertisers in its upfront presentation. The network is also upgrading its programming, working with well-known talent, emphasizing scripted shows and dropping low-budget reality shows.

The network is also adding some high-profile acquired programming. It is making its first first-run off-network acquisition with the ABC comedy The Goldbergs. And it has brought back E.R., the mega-hit, which hasn’t been on the air or on subscription VOD for seven years.

All of this is made possible by the backing of owners CBS and Lionsgate. For both companies, Pop represents their biggest play in basic cable and Pop has been able to leverage its parents assets in a pay-TV environment in which networks such as Pivot and Esquire have been terminated and more are likely to meet a similar fate.

“It’s been a great little three-year run for us since we changed from the TV Guide Network,” said Pop president Brad Schwartz.

The network is now on all the major traditional distributors and is also being added to all the new digital distributors’ lineups, including YouTube TV and Hulu’s new live product.

And in an environment where most cable networks’ audiences are eroding, Pop’s ratings were up by double digits among both adult and women’s demos last season.

“It’s not about being an emerging channel any more. We feel like we’ve arrived and we’re part of the mix now,” said Schwartz.

Since the changeover, Pop has added 150 advertisers to its roster, Schwartz says.

According to SNL Kagan, Pop’s net ad revenue rose 18% to $81.7 million in 2016 from $69.5 million in 2015. Kagan expects 2017 ad revenues to hit $96 million.

Pop is also enthusiastic about creating ways to integrate sponsors into programming of all types, says Michael DuPont, executive VP of ad sales for Pop. It created custom “Pop Quiz” bumpers to emphasize Nivea’s baby-soft skin when the network aired Dirty Dancing. It integrated Edible Arrangements into an episode of its comedy series Nightcap. And the stars of the network's big returning hit, Schitt’s Creek, appeared in vignettes promoting Zillow.

Pop is aiming its programming at an audience it calls Modern Grown-ups, people in their 30s and 40s who grew up in the 90s and have gone through a delayed emotional maturity. The network’s acquired programming, program development and casting is all designed to feel very familiar to that audience, Schwartz says.

“Over the past year, we’ve shifted our focus to premium content,” Schwartz said, ticking off the names of some of the people who are working on new programming for the network. Those names include Will Arnett, Sarah Jessica Parker, Keanu Reeves, Krysten Ritter, Rashida Jones and Kate Walsh. “That’s a great differentiating point," he said.

Scwartz says the acquisition of Goldbergs reruns was a big swing for the network. And E.R. went on the network two weeks ago with little promotion and has already begun to attract an audience, including many who hadn’t seen the show when it aired on NBC. Viewers are DVRing the series, something that usually doesn’t happen with acquisition, he added. E.R. has been running in marathons on weekends and more recently started airing weekdays leading into primetime.

The network plans to air 400 hours of original programming next season, including 200 hours of Big Brother After Dark. It aims to have three or four original series every quarter.

“We’re doing better content. We’re spending more on our content. We have higher caliber people in it and we’re replacing some of the lower priced reality stuff we’ve been doing in the past,” Schwartz said.

Pop’s new series include:

  • Hot Date, a half-hour scripted comedy created with College Humor and its studio, Big Breakfast, based on a series of sketch videos of the same name. Executive produced by Will Arnett’s Electric Avenue Productions, Hot Date stars Emily Axford and Brian K. Murphy and will premiere in Fall 2017.
  • Clique is a stylish scripted drama about two friends entering a university with an elite clique of alpha girls and a deeply corrupt core.
  • Swedish Dicks, Private Investigators is a comedy from Lionsgate and Viaplay starring Peter Stormare and Johan Glans and featuring Keanu Reeves about unlicensed private detectives solving strange crimes in L.A. Guest stars include Traci Lords, Anthony Lapaglia, Eric Roberts and Margaret Cho.

Scripted shows in development include:

  • Let’s Get Physical, a comedy about a slacker who inherits the broken-down aerobic empire of his father, a Jack LaLanne type.
  • Kiss & Cry is a soap drama about a competitive figure skater who must pair with a new male partner and work with a demanding new coach to continue her career.
  • The Demons of Dorian Gunn is a sci-fi comedy about a man who discovers he’s a demon hunter. Among the executive producers is actress Krysten Ritter.
  • It’s a Date, from the producers of Sex and the City, including Sarah Jessica Parker, is a comedy anthology about the pursuit of love.
  • Peaches, a comedy about a boy raised as a girl after his parents lose a pie-eating contest wager who moves to L.A.
  • The New and Improved Pixie Wexler is a comedy about a former child commercial star who becomes a copywriter at a Chicago ad agency where most of the staff is fired after an embezzling scandal.
  • Two Princes is described as a comedic fairytale in which Prince Charming leaves Cinderella behind in fantasyland and winds up in Venice Beach.

Unscripted shows in development include:

  • Get In My Van, a talk-travel show hosted by actress Kate Walsh and her friend comedian Arden Myrin, who travel the country in their RV meeting real people and celebrity friends. The show is produced by Magical Elves.
  • You Take My Point, from Rashida Jones and Matador, is a pop culture panel show hosted by Mary McCormack in her living room. McCormack and her friends, including Jones, Chlesea Handler and a rotating panel of guests, watch TV as a competitive sport making comments about pop culture.

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.