×

First Look Media’s Topic Plans to Launch Subscription VOD Service (EXCLUSIVE)

Can Topic execute a solid pivot into premium video? The digital storytelling outlet of Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media thinks it can put together a niche Netflix-style subscription-video service curated to appeal to young “culture cravers.”

Topic plans to launch the subscription VOD service in the fourth quarter of 2019, stocked with hundreds of hours of licensed and original content, including scripted dramas and comedies, indie films and documentaries, general manager Ryan Chanatry told Variety. He declined to reveal the price of the service but said it would “fit within what’s in the market.”

The move into SVOD comes after First Look just shut down Topic magazine, laying off six staffers, after two years. The final edition of the digital Topic magazine was the July 2019 issue. The New York-based company also ended its funding for political-cartoon site The Nib.

“Video has always been the core of the plan,” said Chanatry, who worked at Netflix before joining First Look Media in 2016. “Our video is going to scale and look different as we build out the subscription direct-to-consumer offering.” He noted that the magazine incorporated one centerpiece video project each month, and “through that we started to learn what resonates with audiences, what creators and voices make sense for us to work with.”

Michael Bloom, CEO of First Look Media, emphasized that the SVOD strategy is to serve a niche audience hungry for a unique blend of entertaining and informative content. “At a time when people are often overwhelmed with choice, we’re not looking to be everything to everyone but instead we will go narrow and deep and program,” he said. The Topic SVOD service is for people “who want to both broaden their perspectives and be entertained with content that reflects their values and interests.”

Popular on Variety

Heading up development and video programming for Topic’s consumer platform is Gena Konstantinakos, formerly a producer at Vice Media’s Viceland cable channel. She leads a six-member team negotiating content-licensing deals and greenlighting projects for Topic’s SVOD service; some video will continue to be distributed for free.

“We want to build a subscription service that people are proud to be part of,” Chanatry said. Topic is aiming for an audience “deeply engaged in social, political and cultural issues of today. We see our place as a brand as serving that intersection of people who are looking for social currency and are culture-cravers, people who voraciously suck in all this stuff.”

On the originals front, shows coming to Topic’s streaming service are set to include: “Soul City,” from the directing duo of Coodie and Chike, a three-part thriller/horror anthology shot in New Orleans about the city’s folklore; a comedy series from Sharon Horgan’s Mermade digital studio, which has a first-look deal with Topic Studios; and a talk show hosted by comedian Maria Bamford exploring mental health through conversations with comedians.

Topic also is licensing international shows and is working with distributors including FremantleMedia, France’s Lagardère, BBC, ITV, and Australia’s ABC. In addition, it’s looking to acquire rights to independent movies, documentaries and other projects that have premiered at Sundance Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, BAFTA and other festivals or have landed on Oscar shortlists. Topic’s SVOD service will draw some of its original programming from Topic Studios, the company’s separate TV and film unit headed by Maria Zuckerman, who most recently was senior VP of HBO Films.

“We are looking for really engaging, lean-in content. We want you to be watching it in a concentrated way,” Chanatry said. He declined to say what First Look Media is spending on the Topic subscription-streaming project but said, “We’re concentrated on being smart and focused.”

Chanatry was named GM of Topic in June 2018, after joining First Look Media in October 2016 as VP of audience development. Prior to that, he worked at Netflix as director of global marketing insights.

Topic’s video projects released to date have included Wyatt Cenac’s Emmy-nominated directorial debut, “aka Wyatt Cenac,” “The Loving Generation,” “Black 14,” “Edith+Eddie” and “She’s the Ticket.” Topic has commissioned current and upcoming projects from filmmakers including Darius Clark Monroe, Nathan Silver, Jia Li, Yvonne Michelle Shirley and Charlie Tyrell.

Topic’s foray into SVOD has a decidedly niche focus. “It’s not a catalog play. Netflix has so much but it’s very difficult to navigate,” Chanatry said. “People want a place to go where they can take a chance on anything in the library and be entertained and shaped.”

To market the service, Topic initially will target users who have installed the free Topic channel on Roku. According to Chanatry, Topic’s channel has more than 200,000 installs on Roku players. It will also promote the service to visitors of Topic.com and followers on Facebook and YouTube.

More Digital

  • Aaron Pedersen (as Jay) & Jada

    Screen Australia Leads Call for Evolution of Industry Funding

    Screen Australia, the country’s federal support body, says the screen entertainment industry needs to come up with new business models in response to changes in audience behavior and the disruptive impact on content financing that has come from streaming. Public support bodies must change their relationships with the industry too, Screen Australia CEO Graeme Mason [...]

  • A-ha!

    'A-ha: The Movie' on 'Take on Me' Band to Receive Worldwide Release (EXCLUSIVE)

    A feature documentary on Norwegian “Take On Me” singers A-ha will receive a worldwide release this November. “A-ha: The Movie,” distributed internationally by Esther van Messel’s First Hand Films, will be broadcast in theaters around the world on Nov. 26, with Germany’s Salzgeber releasing the film locally and First Hand Films handling the release in [...]

  • Vudu

    NBCUniversal in Talks to Buy Walmart's Vudu

    Comcast’s NBCUniversal is looking to add some Vudu into its streaming-video mix. The media conglomerate is in talks to buy Vudu, the Walmart-owned entertainment rental, download and free-streaming service, sources confirm to Variety. It’s unclear what the terms of the pact would be or the timing. News of NBCU’s interest in Vudu was first reported [...]

  • Tubi

    Fox in Talks to Acquire Free-Streaming Service Tubi for Over $500 Million (Report)

    Fox Corp. is in discussions about acquiring Tubi, the ad-supported free streaming service, in a deal worth more than $500 million, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing anonymous sources. With Tubi, Rupert Murdoch’s TV broadcasting and cable company would be adding a dedicated streaming component — offering over 20,000 older TV shows and [...]

  • Zombies 2 Disney Channel

    How Disney Channel's 'Zombies 2' Production Team Made Monsters Kid-Friendly

    Traditionally spooky creatures like zombies and werewolves get the Disney treatment in “Zombies 2,” the follow-up to the 2018 hit TV-movie musical of the same name. While the undead have now assimilated into the community of Seabrook, they’re confronted by a new set of outsiders: werewolves. Milo Manheim and Meg Donnelly return as Zed and [...]

  • Baby Yoda - The Child Animatronic

    Hasbro's Adorable Baby Yoda Animatronic Toy Is Already Sold Out on Disney's Online Store

    The Force remains strong for toys based on Baby Yoda, the breakout star of Disney Plus original series “The Mandalorian.” Less than a day after becoming available for pre-order, Hasbro’s new $59.99 Baby Yoda animatronic toy is no longer available on Disney’s official online store: As of Friday morning, Shop Disney listed it as “sold [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content