Fox Networks Group will launch a National Geographic on-demand service in Europe and Africa in the New Year. In his first major interview since taking the helm of Fox Networks Group Europe and Africa three -and-a-half years ago, Jan Koeppen told Variety about the new National Geographic+ non-linear service and his goal of bringing the box-set, binge-viewing experience to fans of factual programming.
Koeppen said that National Geographic+ has been designed to appeal to the sought-after millennials demographic. The key is to reinvent the on-demand experience for factual fans and allow viewers to binge the same way they do with drama, he said.
“There has been a misconception that VOD is all about scripted,” Koeppen said. “People have been a bit shy about VOD in factual because everybody is so excited about the drama and, to a certain extent, comedy world. We think there is a real demand on the factual side, too, but we have to put a new face on what factual actually means in non-linear.”
The first deals for National Geographic+ have been sealed with telco Cell C’s Black service in South Africa, OTE’s Cosmote offering in Greece, and the YouSee pay-TV platform in Denmark in 2018.
While Nat Geo is keen to develop an on-demand audience for its core factual programming, National Geographic+ will also include the scripted fare that the network is now pursuing. Courteney Monroe is spearheading the new content strategy, which spans big-event series such as “Genius,” theatrically released documentaries such as “Jane” (pictured), and ongoing shows.
Simply stacking shows is not enough to encourage binge-watching, so programming will be arranged by topic, Koeppen said.
“We have to think differently to the linear world and how things are served up there,” he said. “If you want to create an environment in which you can binge, I think offering content title by title is not the way to do it. Everyone has latched onto the idea of box sets, and people understand what that means, so while internally we call them ‘topics,’ that’s what this is.”
The topics on National Geographic+ will cover Nat Geo staples such as space or deep sea exploration, but could also be adapted to cover an anniversary of a global event, extreme weather event, or a news event. The Europe and Africa team did consult with their counterparts in the U.S., where Nat Geo content is on the Fox Now app, but National Geographic+ has been developed specifically for the Europe and Africa markets.
FNG runs 151 channels across 58 countries in Europe and Africa. In February it started rolling out the Fox+ on-demand service, which offers content from 21st Century Fox such as “Prison Break” or “How I Met Your Mother.” Fox+ is available on Deutsche Telekom’s platform, Canal+ in France, and MTG and Canal Digital in the Nordics. It has now also rolled out on NOS in Portugal, and Cell C in South Africa, Fox said.
FNG competitor Discovery has increasingly gone direct to consumer with its non-linear services, allowing it to reach out directly to fans but also removing it from the pay-TV ecosystem that is currently its core business. For Fox, the non-linear strategy is firmly business-to-business. “These are not a B2C products. We integrate them to the platforms of our partners. It is a building block for their VOD services,” Koeppen said.