“Why can’t this be on television,” asked a University of Alabama student in the 1970s? The young John Hendricks was referring to the documentaries he was cataloging for his professor. That question led to his founding of the Discovery Networks in the 1980s and many other innovative ideas, such as Your Choice TV, an early experiment in an on-demand television.
His latest venture, CuriosityStream is a culmination of his earlier discovery and what is what Hendricks calls the third revolution of television. This latest incarnation of television is decoupled from the program schedules and the location constraints of the past; that is, it’s possible to watch his network and its 1,800+ titles anywhere, at any time and on virtually any device with a screen.
Even with the convenience of a platform that takes the friction out of watching television, viewers won’t watch unless the content is compelling. From his decades of experience, Hendricks knew that factual TV, as he calls it, would be a huge category and that his goal “is to do what Netflix did for movies, we want to do for factual entertainment.”
He describes their target audience as being curious by nature and that consists of 25 to 40% of the general population. Like Netflix, they have a mix of licensed and original programming. He emphasizes the strategic importance of original productions in driving publicity and awareness of the channel. Having participation from marquee talent, such as Stephen Hawking and David Attenborough, is helpful for creating a halo for the brand.
Getting back to his roots, Hendricks sees broadband providers as an important distribution arm to drive subscriber and viewership. Described as OTTm (Over-The-Top through the middle), Hendricks sees his and channels like his as being part of a broadband providers offering. An offering with a difference, as it allows for ala-carte purchases of programming categories, new kinds of sponsored programming (e.g. Toyota Theater) and, even, gift card sales. He indicates that it will be interesting to watch how this new approach disrupts the traditional programming model.