Meredith is making deep cuts as it continues to absorb Time Inc. into its operations. But execs say the company is going full bore on its strategy to make PeopleTV — which combines programming from its People and Entertainment Weekly brands — into a bigger multiplatform entertainment property.
PeopleTV is about to become a full 24-hour linear TV channel, distributed through internet-streaming startup FuboTV — its first pay-TV deal. In another new extension, PeopleTV next week is set to launch “Chatter,” its first live talk show on Twitter, hosted by TV personality Rocsi Diaz.
Details of how PeopleTV will be available on FuboTV are yet to be announced. Susanne Mei, general manager of PeopleTV, said the amount of live and on-demand content on the virtual pay-TV service will be “substantially larger” than what’s available on the PeopleTV app. It will also be the first place to catch many PeopleTV premieres before they become available for free.
“This linear, virtual MVPD [multichannel video programming distributor] strategy was always the goal for PeopleTV,” said Mei, who before joining Time Inc. in 2015 worked at AMC Networks, Showtime Networks and Smithsonian Networks. “Right now, it’s about windowing and having more access to content.”
Under the FuboTV deal, Meredith is getting an affiliate fee and will run advertising on the channel as well. Bruce Gersh, president of People, Entertainment Weekly, People en Español, said the group is in talks with several other distributors about PeopleTV becoming part of their product offering.
Meredith last month laid off 200 staffers, and said it expects to eliminate another 1,000 jobs over the course of 2018. Gersh said PeopleTV is not being affected: “A lot of the changes that have happened have been primarily focused on back office, corporate functions.”
With PeopleTV, said Gersh, “we’ve been able to capitalize on the fact that we already have video teams on People and EW producing content.” He declined to say how big PeopleTV’s staff is but said it’s a fairly lean team.
Meredith Digital president Stan Pavlovsky confirmed that PeopleTV is “definitely an area we want to invest in”: “This is very much in line with the history of Meredith, which has been a multiplatform brand for decades spanning print and broadcast TV.”
Meredith’s deal with FuboTV for PeopleTV comes after the internet-TV service added Sports Illustrated TV (SI TV) this month — also marking the official launch of SI TV as a 24/7 linear channel. Meredith is currently exploring the sale of SI, Time, Fortune and Money, whose audiences diverge from Meredith’s portfolio of female-skewing lifestyle brands.
Overall, PeopleTV has seen sustained growth since the launch of PeopleTV (originally dubbed the People/Entertainment Weekly Network) as a free, ad-supported service in September 2016.
To date, the PeopleTV apps have been downloaded almost 3 million times. PeopleTV saw 70% growth in video starts from all combined channels during the second half of 2017 vs. the first half of the year. In January 2018, it saw a 33% year-over-year increase across all platforms, and last month premiered one of its most-viewed episodes to date: the one-hour “Entertainment Weekly Cast Reunions: ‘Dawson’s Creek.'”
Its next platform is Twitter: “Chatter,” a weeknight show running Mondays-Fridays at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT, is set to debut next Monday, April 23, with eBay as launch sponsor.
PeopleTV recently hired the show’s host: Rocsi Diaz, who’s best known as the former co-host of BET’s music show, “106 & Park,” where her interview subjects included Lady Gaga and Barack Obama. She also was a co-host and daily correspondent for CBS’s “Entertainment Tonight,” and hosted HLN’s “The Daily Share” and VH1’s “Dating Naked.”
|Rocsi Diaz, host of PeopleTV’s “Chatter” on Twitter. Photo credit: Marshaun White|
“Chatter” will be shot out of PeopleTV’s L.A. studio, combining the entertainment buzz of the day while incorporating Twitter users’ comments. Said Gersh: “This is a brand-new, fresh take built for the Twitter audience.”
Concurrent with the launch of “Chatter,” PeopleTV’s half-hour “People Now” daytime talk show will shift to noon ET/9 AM p.m. (from its previous slot at 8:30 ET), on April 23. “People Now” is more in the vein of a traditional morning TV show, with interviews, celebrity guests, and cooking segments. Mei said her team realized that viewers engage more on PeopleTV’s owned-and-operated platforms later in the day. “Traffic ramps up as the day goes on,” she said.
As PeopleTV gets ready for its expansion into the pay-TV sector, it’s also doubling down on live programming, which has comprised red-carpet and event coverage.
The next major live event will be the May 19 royal wedding of Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle. PeopleTV will go wall-to-wall with coverage, with correspondents at its New York City studio and on location at Windsor Castle in England. The team covering the festivities will include Darcy Miller, editor-at-large for Meredith’s Martha Stewart Weddings.
“For us, the royal wedding is like the Super Bowl,” Mei said. “We’ll be covering that from the crack of dawn, until they walk out of the church and as long after that as makes sense.”
Pictured above: Susanne Mei, GM of PeopleTV