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22 January 2015

Discovery’s Hendricks plans CuriosityStream SVoD service

Industry veteran John Hendricks is planning to launch a SVoD service called CuriosityStream, a nonfiction platform focused on science, nature, history and technology. The Discovery Communications founder, who recently retired from the board with 2% of the shares, plans to launch on March 18th and charge between $3 and $10 per month.

The tiered packages will feature an UHD option, with filmmaker David Conover (Sunrise Earth, Live from the ISS) supplying a 20-part nature documentary called Big Picture Earth for CuriosityStream. The tiers begin at $3 for standard definition, $4 for 720p, $6 for 1080p and $10 for UHD, and Hendricks says a library of 800 titles will be available at launch.

The content will be a mixture of short and long form, often with a host or celebrity involved in narrating the stories behind the imagery. Hendricks added that “the nice thing about SVoD is that you don’t have any time constraints,” but while Big Picture Earth will vary its runtime, two new programs (Digits, Deep Time History) will stick much more closely to the more familiar documentary format.

CuriosityStream will market its exclusive content to pay TV outlets after it has been on the platform for 6-12 months, with the aim of having one third of the library comprise original titles. Hendricks notes that this is the reverse of most traditional SVoD approaches, which are given the second window of pay TV’s catalog.

The library will be bolstered by programming acquired from BBC Worldwide, Flame Distribution, NHK, Terra Noa and ZED. Given the success of Conover’s Sunrise Earth, which featured no commentary and portrayed a high definition sunrise from locations around the world, CuriosityStream is embracing the more left-of-field content choices that might not be supported by the conservative ad-supported model.

Hendricks seems to pre-empt criticism of low potential audience numbers, adding “I don’t want to be driven by ratings. I’m anxious to program for subscribers and let them support it without regard to the numbers. CuriosityStream is the world’s first ad-free, SVoD service that addresses our lifelong quest to learn, explore and understand. Our aim is to provide the first and best on-demand streaming destination that aggregates and curates the best factual content.”

Limelight Networks will be providing the cloud hosting for CuriosityStream, which will be served to customers via web browsers for mobile devices and PCs, with Apple TVs, Rokus and Chromecasts being singled out for TV sets.

In addition to Conover, whose Sunrise Earth found a loyal following among HD TV early-adopters who were looking for content to immerse themselves in, CuriosityStream has also brought in Steve Burns, ex National Geographic global content EVP, to head up the programming team. The platform will undoubtedly hope to attract a similar set of viewers as those who were looking to break in their 1080p screens, now that UHD is coming to market.

UHD’s main stumbling block seems to be consumer apathy, as a recent CEA forecast found that only 33% of respondents may purchase a 4K TV in the next seven years – with price not picture quality still being the overwhelming deciding factor in purchases. 4K seems to becoming a standard feature instead of the must-have addition that marketers want it to be.

In addition, the last mile connection is still a barrier to 4K adoption in much of the world, but for those consumers with adequate bandwidth, this sort of programming could prove a powerful draw – as it is better suited to presenting all the additional image-detail that the higher resolution allows. Documentary footage is used to show off 4K TVs in showrooms for a reason: the medium is well suited to the much larger resolution, which takes advantage of exotic color palates and sweeping landscape photography.