CuriosityStream - SVOD - online video startups - Fierce 15 2015

Where it's based: Silver Spring, Md.
When it was founded: 2014

Why it's Fierce: Consumers looking for that elusive third or fourth streaming service beyond Netflix, Amazon and Hulu that's actually worth paying for may find their bliss in CuriosityStream, a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service launched in March. Founded and chaired by John Hendricks, the founder of Discovery Channel, the provider is currently the only SVOD player that completely dedicates its programming to the nonfiction/factual genre niche.

And the monthly cost for the service's all-you-can-stream slate of science, nature, history and other such content is "less than the cost of a Starbucks coffee" at $2.99 a month, according to Elizabeth Hendricks North, president of Curiosity Project, the startup company behind CuriosityStream.

A year ago, when John Hendricks retired from Discovery to develop the Curiosity Project, the goal of the service was slightly different. "[Curiosity Project] started last summer with two retreats we hosted at a resort in Colorado. We filmed those retreats, and originally CuriosityStream was a platform to showcase those lectures to a wider audience. And it kind of grew from there into something much bigger and better than we originally imagined," North said. The opportunity to build on that came when Steve Burns, a veteran of the nonfiction/factual industry segment who had headed up programming at Science Channel and National Geographic, joined the team. "He really helped us build up this offering of documentaries and short series," North said. Burns set up content acquisition deals with networks like NHK and BBC.

The startup was funded by private investors, including Hendricks himself, North said.

CuriosityStream has 25 employees and works with a number of third-party providers, such as Limelight. It offers a variety of programming, much of it licensed from networks like BBC, NHK, French distributor Zed, and Germany-based ZDF. Around 5 percent of the company's content is original, and Hendricks told FierceOnlineVideo in January that the company hopes to increase its original programming lineup to around 30 to 40 percent of its library in the next year.

So far, the launch of the company's service has gone well. "We're adding new content and hundreds of subscribers each week," North said, and the company is already getting solid metrics on viewership, though it didn't disclose numbers.

"We're really excited about Destination Pluto, our biggest and most-watched series to date. It's a short-form series following the New Horizons mission to the furthest planet in our solar system," North said. "I know a number of people will mention that Pluto isn't a planet but we have a very compelling series to counter that argument." North added that "NASA's space probe will enable a close study of Pluto that has never been possible before this summer. We've followed the New Horizons mission for the past six months to create this series, which is consistently watched by subscribers on our site." CuriosityStream currently features 5 episodes of Destination: Pluto with additional episodes planned for release throughout the summer."

The site also live-streamed the DARPA Robotics Challenge in early June, in which 25 teams guided their robots around obstacles similar to those found in disaster conditions--shifting piles of debris, cutting through walls, shutting off valves and more.

What's next: With the service's launch completed, Curiosity Project is concentrating on attracting more subscribers, who have a growing number of SVOD options to choose from. "The main challenge is breaking through the clutter and finding our audience," North said. "There are a lot of services offering streaming, but we're the only one offering nonfiction/factual for less than the cost of a Starbucks coffee per month."

The company will complete its current marketing campaign, which North called "more of a beta marketing stage" as it develops its digital strategy, in the fall. Plans are in place for a back-to-school campaign that will promote its current offerings like Destination Pluto as well as a kids' series from the UK called Quarx.

CuriosityStream will debut its first 4K series this fall, Big Picture Earth. David Conover, the filmmaker who made the seminal 2004 documentary series Sunrise Earth--which featured an hour of un-narrated nature scenes from around the world per episode--is making the new series for CuriosityStream. "We commissioned him to go around the world to 20 spectacular locations and film them in 4K," North said.

With licensed content locked into place, a commitment to increase the amount of available 4K content, and a pretty impressive advisory board that includes Internet pioneer Vint Cerf and a number of education and science leaders, Curiosity Project will be a SVOD provider to watch in the coming months.

CuriosityStream - SVOD - online video startups - Fierce 15 2015