Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

There’s money in niche content

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast December 04, 2019

Smaller players are finding focused, monetisable ways to attract audiences, says Kate Bulkley

While the battle heats up among the big SVoDs, action is developing around the edges as content makers, distributors and producers rethink their models and look to align with audiences in more focused and monetisable ways – often going direct to consumer.

The problem is finding a niche audience that hasn’t already been hoovered up by the big players. Amid the growing tsunami of available content, what will people be willing to search out to watch?

One answer is that they may respond to ‘superniche’ services like True Royalty, the start-up SVoD co-founded by Spun Gold TV co-founder Nick Bullen, offering wall-to-wall videos on royal families around the world but with a particular emphasis on the British royals.

Bullen is one of the best-known producers of programmes on the British monarchy and recently won a Bafta for The Queen’s 90th Birthday Celebration.

True Royalty (pictured above) launched earlier this year and now has 20,000 subscribers and a transformative deal to be included on Comcast’s Xfinity service in the US, which reaches 14 million subscribers. Bullen’s co-founder Gregor Angus says the ‘special sauce’ is not appealing to a prime-time, general-interest audience.

Then there’s the niche service that is finding it isn’t as ‘niche’ as it first thought: Revry. An LA-based LGBTQ+ network that initially launched with a traditional SVoD offer, Revry has now launched an ad-funded VoD tier and a ‘virtual’ linear channel on web-connected US services provided on devices such as Samsung smart TVs.

One in five millennials self-identifies as LGBTQ+, equivalent to 55% of global purchasing power, according to Revry co-founder Damian Pelliccione. In the US alone, the market is worth $917bn (£710bn); globally, it’s worth $4.3tn (£3.3tn).

As such, Revry has pivoted towards AVoD after discovering that advertisers will pay up to $110 (£85) CPM (cost per thousand viewers) to align with a brand that Pelliccone says “represents an identity”, especially during Pride Week.

“Even more-traditional broadcasters see niche as an opportunity”

Another innovative start-up is WaterBear, from ZDF Enterprises-owned non-fiction producer and distributor Off the Fence and Irish tech firm Axonista.

The VoD platform pairs wildlife programming with interactive platform functionality. Some 70 non-governmental organisations have partnered on the project and their members will form the basis of the audience when WaterBear launches next year.

Off the Fence chief executive Ellen Windemuth has said the service offers multiple revenue streams, including merchandising and related eco-travel offers.

There are also adjustments going on at more established firms like Vice Media. In the wake of its recent $400m (£310m) purchase of female-skewing digital content business Refinery29, the traditionally male-skewing Vice is becoming a significant option for advertisers chasing broad, global youth demographic buys, as Vice chief revenue officer Dominique Delport told a Broadcasting Press Guild breakfast last week.

He claimed “the [initial] race for reach” is over and “the world needs engagement and content that has depth”.

Even more-traditional broadcasters see niche as an opportunity. Last month, Opeyemi Olukemi, head of digital production and innovation at US public service broadcaster PBS, said: “The community is the powerhouse in the middle that will empower the stories we make.”

Olukemi leads a PBS unit called POV Spark that is creating interactive and immersive media projects, the first of which will debut in 2020 on major digital platforms such as YouTube. The rationale for the operation is reaching those who distrust mainstream news and believe more should be done on subjects such as climate change.

But as Olukemi and Delporte both acknowledge, you cannot build a business distributing content on the FAANG platforms alone. That’s why those niche, round-the-edge services are the future for many. ­

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