Q&A: CuriosityStream CEO talks Apple TV, Amazon Channels and streaming service aggregators

CuriosityStream recently launched on Apple's revamped TV app. (CuriosityStream)

CuriosityStream, a subscription video service focused on nonfiction content, could have some serious competition when Discovery and BBC launch their similar-sounding service in 2020. But for now, CuriosityStream CEO Clint Stinchcomb just sees those companies’ plans as validation of the programming space.

“As you know, people don’t compete where there’s no opportunity. We think that the entry of that service, whenever it enters the market, only helps sharpen our proposition,” Stinchcomb said.

A more immediate concern for CuriosityStream is growing its subscriber base, something that it’s doing with the help of partners. CuriosityStream is part of Apple’s new streaming subscription service hub along with similar services including Amazon Channels, the Roku Channel and Comcast’s Xfinity Flex.

During the recent Pay TV Show, FierceVideo sat down Stinchcomb to discuss the impact these platforms have on business for smaller SVODs.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

Clint Stinchcomb

FierceVideo: You were announced as a launch partner for Apple’s new channels service. You’re also a part of similar services like Amazon Channels and the Roku Channel. How are these streaming video aggregation services working out for CuriosityStream?

Clint Stinchcomb: So far, so good. Amazon’s been a great partner for CuriosityStream. I think what they saw is, they had at one point over 150 SVOD services there and I think they recognized that that’s too many. So, I think that they’ve culled the herd a little bit. When you get into that kind of volume of services you get a lot of repetition; you get a lot of the same stuff. Thankfully, for us, we stand out because of the uniqueness and high quality of our content.

FierceVideo: Those services provide a clear benefit for consumers and, for Apple, Amazon and Roku, they get a portion of the subscription revenue. What’s the benefit for CuriosityStream?

Stinchcomb: In the case of Amazon or Apple, they have pretty extensive reach. With Apple, they have massive structural advantages.

FierceVideo: But you guys had apps on iOS and tvOS before this service came along.

Stinchcomb: That’s true. But I think that you’ll find they’ll put some energy behind this and the picture quality is really impressive. But the fact that they handle the marketing, they handle the billing, they handle the promotion, that helps us. We have that apparatus inside of CuriosityStream but Apple and Amazon have massive brand recognition.

FierceVideo: Is there a clear cost savings that comes out of this in terms of marketing and other aspects? Can you scale down those operational aspects?

Stinchcomb: Yeah. Without a doubt. When you’re a smaller company like ours, billing is a meaningful piece of monthly subscription, which is part of the reason that over 75% of our subscriptions that are sold are annual. That helps with the billing fees. But our intent is to make subscribing to CuriosityStream as seamless and as easy as possible. To the extent that a third-party partner can help us do that, then we’re interested.

FierceVideo: Is there any hesitancy in letting someone else’s platform collect all that viewership data?

Stinchcomb: Well, the good news is that because we’re direct-to-consumer we have hundreds of thousands of subscribers that subscribe directly to our service. We get a lot of learning from that.

FierceVideo: Does it get to a point where you have a big enough sample size anyway and more isn’t going to bear out any new details?

Stinchcomb: You got it. Exactly right. So, for us, the beauty of having direct-to-consumer service is you learn what people watch, you learn what works and what doesn’t work. You can look at views, abandonments and completions. There are all kinds of data you can look at with a direct-to-consumer service that you couldn’t otherwise. We feel like we have a pretty substantial sample size and that gives us leverage and strength with partners too.

Without a doubt, it’s great to have that data. And the great thing about annual subscriptions is it gives us 12 months to really learn somebody’s preferred behavior and make their experience as compelling as possible.

FierceVideo: Any idea what the percentage is in terms of your direct-to-consumer and third-party service subscribers?

Stinchcomb: I think over time, third-party platforms comprise more of the subscriber base. But we’re moving quickly along and they’re both growing. The key is, we want to continue to grow the direct-to-consumer side and we want to continue to grow the partnership side as well. Our intent is over time to get this thing into tens of millions of global households.