Is there enough room on the bubble for Pop?
When Pop, a cable network most people probably refer to as TVGN, launches January 14, it will do so with programs that celebrate the continuing ability of such, well, institutions, as New Kids On the Block and “Everybody Loves Raymond” to cut a swath through popular culture. And it will debut with some new programs in tow: a comedy series featuring Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara and the eyebrow-raising title “Schitt’s Creek,’ as well as a reality program that examines the ability of former soap stars from daytime and primetime to produce a new sudser.
But the new network’s schedule is only the tip of an ongoing battle by major media companies to win viewers by highlighting celebrity and fun. Pop is actually a new effort from CBS Corp. and Lionsgate to put forth their own candidate in the ongoing battle among general-entertainment networks for viewers. Yes, Pop is likely to compete most directly with NBCUniversal operations like Bravo and E! that cater to fans who are passionate about celebrity and the high life. But it also represents a new effort by its two owners to play in a pool in which they have not waded overmuch – the passel of big cable outfits like TBS, TNT, USA, FX and AMC that go after the broadest crowds with lineups that consist of movies, favored TV programs from the past, and new series that vie with broadcast primetime for eyeballs.
The dip of CBS’ corporate foot in the pool is intriguing. The company owns relatively few basic-cable assets (CBS Sports Network and Smithsonian Channel are a few of its holdings), the result of the assets it got when corporate owner Sumner Redstone decided to cleave the company from its sister Viacom in 2005. Premium network Showtime is its central cable holding.In recent sessions at investor conferences, CBS has splashed cold water on speculation it might acquire other companies to beef up its cable offerings. Pop, however, could represent the company’s initial foray into the arena.
Pop will launch in 80 million homes, the result of its roots as what was once known as “TV Guide Channel” – a utility of sorts on the set-top box that once served as a channel guide for viewers – with a few ads tucked in – and made it nearly ubiquitous. The network has overhauled its efforts since March of 2013, when CBS purchased a 50% stake in the venture, and the Pop rebrand serves to sever the operation more completely from its days as a grid. The theme, articulated in the past by Brad Schwartz, president of entertainment and media at the network, is “fandom,” giving Pop license to focus on everything from Comic-Con to Coachella.
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. 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.
Pop’s first primetime session will feature two episodes of “Rock the Boat: New Kids On The Block,” a reality series that shows what happens when die-hard fans of a band popular in the 1980s get to take a cruise with their favorite musicians. The network will fill its 8 p.m. hour with the series. At 9 p.m. on January 14, Pop will launch “The Story Behind,” a one-hour TV series that tells behind-the-scenes tales of TV’s greatest hits and most iconic programs, including on-camera interviews with cast members and insiders. “Everybody Loves Raymond” will get the spotlight in the debut, but other shows slated to be featured include “Home Improvement,” “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “Will & Grace,” “Full House,” “Friends” and “ER.” The show will typically air every Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.
The network’s first original scripted series, “Schitt’s Creek,” will launch at 10 p.m. on February 11. The series features Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Chris Elliott. The show will center on a family who suddenly find themselves broke and forced to move into the town of the title they once purchased as a joke.
In the future, CBS-owned “Entertainment Tonight” will produce red-carpet specials leading up to the Oscars and Grammys. Pop will in the Spring launch “Queens of Drama,” the aforementioned docuseries about former soap stars making a new effort. Pop will also fill its schedule with repeats of “Melrose Place” and “Beverly Hills 90210.”