Zone TV’s Pitch to Pay-TV Ops: Scratch the Niche Itch With Subscription VOD

Can a lineup of internet-style subscription video-on-demand channels help cable and satellite TV operators stanch the hemorrhaging of subscribers cutting the cord — which is only expected to get worse?

Comcast, for example, has slotted Netflix and YouTube into its X1 set-top guide. The cable giant’s hope: that the content-aggregation play will help persuade subs to keep Comcast as their primary video provider.

Now comes Zone TV, which is in talks with pay-TV operators to add its suite of niche-oriented entertainment and lifestyle channels. The company has assembled 28 SVOD channels, priced around $4-$6 per month — with content ranging from kids’ storytelling to historical documentaries, and from martial-arts movies to guitar and drum lessons.

“Consumers love the SVOD model in the pay-TV space – it helps them feel like they’re getting their money’s worth,” said Jeff Weber, Zone TV’s CEO.

But Zone TV’s content lineup, compared with the likes of general-entertainment SVOD services like HBO and Netflix, is targeted at far smaller communities of interest. Will there be enough demand for, say, Lion Mountain TV, to ring the cash register in any meaningful way?

“I’m comfortable with niche offerings, as long as they’re high quality,” said Weber. “Each of these channels has a strong online following.”

It’s also worth noting that most of the programming providers on Zone TV’s platform also sell their content a la carte online already. But Weber argues that pay-TV operators add value by delivering the content through customers’ existing set-top boxes and through a single monthly bill.

Zone TV has 14 branded SVODs, plus 14 channels with content aggregated from dozens of partners around themes and lifestyle categories (e.g. men, kids, style, cooking, and specialty sports).

In Zone TV’s business model, it splits revenue generated from the SVOD channels with the content providers, then gives operator partners a rev-share of around 30%. There’s no advertising — part of the value proposition to viewers is that they can watch everything ad-free.

Weber has been on the other side of the table here. He previously was president of content and advertising for AT&T, overseeing programming deals for U-verse, and was a longtime exec at the telco and its predecessor companies.

Weber joined Zone TV in October 2015, formerly called ES3, which stood for “Electronic Systems Software Solutions.” The company was founded in 2002 in Toronto by executive chairman Doug Edwards, who heads up product development for Zone TV. Today, Zone TV has 38 employees, with offices in Santa Monica, Calif., and Toronto. The company is owned by Edwards, Weber and other individual investors.

Here are the 14 branded SVOD channels in Zone TV’s current catalog:

  • TumbleBooks TV: An interactive reading and viewing experience for young kids
  • PlayKids: Educational games and videos for kids ages 8 and younger
  • TouchFit TV: Fitness programming from mixed-martial arts expert Georges St-Pierre
  • All Warrior Network: Military entertainment channel
  • Motorland TV: Network for gearheads with videos on motorcycles, hot rods, racing, off-road vehicles, and classic cars
  • Gone TV: Programming on hunting and fishing, ranging from competitive angling to product reviews
  • DocCom TV: Documentary channel that “brings the planet’s greatest stories to you”
  • Blackbelt TV: Collection of martial-arts films, offering the best in “kicks, flicks and chicks”
  • XiveTV: Videos on science, nature, history, paranormal, war, travel, Adrenaline sports and more
  • Pro Guitar Lessons: Music instructions from top professionals
  • Quark: Dedicated to documentaries, shorts, and series based around such topics as space exploration, earth, technology, anatomy, and machines
  • Magellan TV: History-focused documentaries and series, ranging from world history, ancient civilizations, religion and military history
  • Stephen’s Drum Shed: Music tutorials from percussion professionals
  • Lion Mountain TV: Programming about African wildlife

To date, Zone TV’s most successful on-demand channel has been Santa Tracker, which includes Christmas music, movies, story read-alongs and casual games. The company expects to expand in this area, too, with plans to add VOD programming for other holidays and prominent national events.

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