Cirkus is coming to town with a new attraction in the form of Curio, an SVOD service programmed with high-end factual programming. When it launches early next year, it will sit alongside the core Cirkus offering, a best-of-British SVOD service that launched in 2013.
A former Talk Talk, Tiscali and BBC exec, Cirkus cofounder Hugh Williams (left) says there is a gap for an SVOD ‘channel’ focused on high-quality factual. “The Discoverys and the Nat Geos are chasing ratings because of the pressure on linear pay TV channels,” he says. “They have vacated a space for customers who wants to watch intelligent documentary, who are being starved of this stuff.”
Fellow co-founder Mark Bradford (right), a former Flextech exec, adds: “Channels do their distribution deal [with a pay TV platform] and then they quickly need to maximise commercial impacts. That drives them towards high-volume, lower-quality fact-ent that delivers those viewing numbers.”
Discovery Channel founder John Hendricks observed the same trend and has rolled out an OTT factual service, Curiosity Stream. It, however, is aimed directly at consumers while Curio will be pitched to pay TV platforms in the same way as Cirkus, which launched in 2013 after agreeing a deal with Swedish cable operator Com Hem. Cirkus then launched in Norway and Finland, going live on TeliaSonera’s Finnish Sonera IPTV platform. This June, it rolled out in Iceland, on Vodafone’s platform.
Curio will also hit the Nordics first. Cirkus’ research shows the factual category is close behind drama in the region in the preferences of what it labels ‘content connoisseurs’ (people most likely to be consuming programming on-demand). Bradford says: “Documentaries work for 25-34s very strongly in the Nordic countries, as well as the 45s to 54s, so they cut across young and more middle-aged demos, which is unique to that market.”
At launch, the service will have over 200 hours of long-form factual, split into three categories: ‘The World Around Us’, ‘Civilisation’ and ‘The Way We Are Now’. With a tagline of ‘For Curious People’, Curio will be the first dedicated doc SVOD service in the Nordics.
The initial Cirkus service was designed as a hedge for operators worried about the advance of Netflix and its OTT brethren, allowing pay TV incumbents to launch a strong, branded SVOD alternative to the headline-grabbing streaming services.
“What we see everywhere is that platforms, particularly the big telcos and cable operators, are looking for SVOD content,” Williams says. “They have discovered they are overweight in linear channels and underweight in VOD, and what customers want is content they can view on-demand.”
Bradford adds that major pay operators are in many cases looking to trim their linear-channel offering and supplementing that slimmer line-up with on-demand. “There is a lot of talk about skinny bundles and operators getting rid of tier-two channels because they are no longer cutting the mustard,” he says. “Operators can’t ignore the threat of customers trading down and need to put more value into packages. That means more than adding another four or five linear channels; it is adding SVOD from various suppliers.”
With their branding and offering to pay TV platforms, Cirkus and now Curio are presented like linear pay channels, albeit without a lot of the costs and challenges. “The problem with launching linear channels is you have a lot of luggage, a lot of people and back office, and hardware,” says Williams. “So, while linear channels now also offer operators a lot of catch-up and SVOD, that is not the answer; catch-up is hard to integrate for the operator, and the SVOD from the linear channel operators is a lump of stuff viewers have seen on their channel anyway.”
Should the documentary SVOD channel fare well, Cirkus will look to other categories, Williams adds. “We will see how this strategy will develop,” he says. If we get this away successfully, we can look at kids or other categories and develop in the same way as linear channel groups have historically, offering a bouquet of channels.”
In the short term, another advance for the original Cirkus service will be launches in the Benelux region and Germany, with operator talks underway. With these roll-outs and Curio, the ITV-backed SVOD service is increasingly a travelling Cirkus.