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Streaming service taps Stephen Hawking to outdraw ESPN+, HBO

[LOS ANGELES] Any list of the most-popular online TV services begins with Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. But after those comes an unlikely success story of the streaming revolution: CuriosityStream, a service for kids and adults that's devoted to subjects like science and nature.

CuriosityStream, founded by Discovery Channel creator John Hendricks, has eclipsed 10 million subscribers, the company said on Tuesday. That's more than ESPN+, CBS All Access or the WWE app, and up from just a million last December.

Its growth offers a possible blueprint for the many small services pondering their fate now that Walt Disney Co, Apple Inc, Comcast Corp and AT&T Inc are spending billions of dollars to compete with Netflix Inc.

CuriosityStream has outpaced competitors by embracing a model pioneered by cable TV. Rather than trying to market the service on its own, Mr Hendricks and chief executive officer Clint Stinchcomb have sold it to pay-TV operators who bundle it for their own video and internet customers.

"From the beginning, I never wanted to be a niche service," Mr Hendricks said in an interview. "If you say niche service, people think of a special interest that only appeals to a small segment. We have a universally appealing service."

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Mr Hendricks founded CuriosityStream in 2015, shortly after he left Discovery Inc, the media giant that owns TLC, Animal Planet and its namesake TV network. Mr Hendricks started the Discovery Channel in 1985, in the early days of cable TV, and saw an opportunity to build an online business around the same fact-based programming that made Discovery a US$21.7 billion company.

Mr Stinchcomb, a Discovery veteran, came aboard in June 2017 and became CEO last year.


For CuriosityStream, Mr Hendricks acquired the rights to thousands of episodes of TV about Stephen Hawking, quantum physics and Mars, and commissioned original shows about the history of food and the solar system.

But Mr Stinchcomb and Mr Hendricks soon realised their audience would be limited if they tried to take on Netflix and Amazon alone. They saw Netflix making deals with cable operators and concluded being part of a larger bundle could help them, too.

"We want to make a service that can take advantage of the full addressable market internationally," Mr Hendricks said. "The opportunity is limitless."

Customers can now buy CuriosityStream several ways. They can pay US$2.99 a month or US$19.99 a year for a subscription - either straight from the company or through third parties such as Inc and T-Mobile US Inc. Some people get CuriosityStream as part of a corporate membership through their employer.


But the largest share of customers some through pay-TV services. Altice USA Inc, StarHub Ltd in Singapore, Mexico's Totalplay and providers across the Caribbean, India and Africa all pay CuriosityStream a flat fee to include its programming in their packages. Next year, the service will be available in nine Latin American countries through Millicom International Cellular SA.

Whether CuriosityStream has settled on the best model for smaller streaming services remains to be seen. The company isn't profitable yet and remains much smaller than the largest players.

In February, CuriosityStream raised US$140 million in a private placement to fund its expansion. Its new investors included Blum Capital Ventures and TimesSquare Capital Management.

As more services come into the market, they will add programming that competes with CuriosityStream. But the company has already outlived streaming services devoted to niches like classic movies and comedy.

"There will be a massive amount of carnage," Mr Stinchcomb said. "There are at least 250 subscription video services. Some will be shut down for economic reasons, and others because they don't fit into bigger companies' broader strategies."


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