Something is about to burst at the cable outlet best known as the TV Guide Network.
The outlet — currently called TVGN and owned jointly by Lionsgate and CBS Corp. since March of 2003, when CBS purchased a 50% stake in the venture — will change its name to POP sometime in the first quarter of 2015, and curate programming that celebrates being a fan of popular culture.
“You want to provide a differentiated and unique product to your distribution partners and when audiences come to us, you want them to know they can’t get this anywhere else,” said Brad Schwartz, the president of entertainment and media at the network, who joined in April of last year. “We just kept coming up, time and again, with ideas of fandom,” he said in an interview.
The theme will allow the new POP to look at anything that draws a coterie of intense adherents, whether it be Comic-Con, Coachella, the “Twilight” books and movies, or hit TV shows.
Schwartz said the network would “celebrate the fun of being a fan” rather than provide snarky commentary on celebrities or events.
The strategy does not break with the network’s current operations. In April, the network unveiled a programming slate that would include a reality series featuring the family of former “Jersey Shore” figure Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino. Another entry, “Rock This Boat,” will look at fans of music bands enjoying a celebrity cruise with them. The initial series features New Kids On The Block and is produced in conjunction with band member and actor Donnie Wahlberg. It is slated to appear in the first quarter of next year, Schwartz said.
But a new identity is critical, Schwartz suggested. Even though the “TV Guide” name is no longer part of the network’s identifying marks, people still link TVGN to the TV magazine with which it is no longer associated. They also remember it best as a place where for years the most prominent feature was a “scroll” of TV-program listings and commercials. Meantime, the network has changed its raison d’etre, even though its time as a TV-listings utility has brought it reach of more than 80 million homes.
Lionsgate and CBS have reason to push the network more aggressively. TVGN commands just two cents a month per subscriber from distributors, according to data from market-research firm SNL Kagan, while other networks that court fans and passionate audiences get significantly more. Consider the case of both E! and Bravo, both owned by NBCUniversal. E! got 24 cents a month per subscriber in 2013, while Bravo secured 25 cents a month per subscriber.
TVGN’s ad revenue has also been on the small side. In 2013, TVGN notched about $73.6 million in advertising, according to SNL Kagan compared with approximately $201.8 million for E! and $359.5 million for Bravo.
A group of consumers Schwartz called “modern grownups” are most likely to find the network appealing. The niche consists of people likely in their 30s and 40s who grew up in the 1990s and 1980s but delayed getting married and having kids.The group has disposable income and more than a decade in the workforce but still likes to connect with youthful activities, like going out for dinner or traveling.
The new POP will launch with more than 400 hours of original programming, much of it from a daily entertainment-news show it runs in conjunction with entertainment site PopSugar. Another series, “The Story Behind,” will delve into the origins of TV’s greatest hit shows and look at how they got their start. CBS-produced programs and Lionsgate movies are likely to show up on its air as well.
The name, Schwartz said, will spur thoughts of “that thing that rises above the noise” and can encompass a broad array of subjects, whether they be Lady Gaga or “Scandal,” the ABC series. “Popping is far more significant than trending,” he said, suggesting the network would work harder to identify themes and properties that occupy consumers’ interest for more than a few minutes or hours.