It’s probably wrong to call Dove Channel, the new OTT platform launched in September by Cinedigm, a niche service. Because while the audience it targets with its faith and family-friendly programming doesn’t get much love from Hollywood studios outside of the realm of animation, it’s actually quite large.
According to a report by the Pew Research Center released earlier this year, 25.4% of the U.S. population — 62.2 million Americans — are evangelical Christians. It’s safe to say that’s it’s a larger demographic group than those targeted by popular niche OTT services such as anime specialists Crunchyroll or Korean content-focused DramaFever.
“We’re talking about a huge swatch of consumers who feel like they’ve been underserved by traditional OTT services that may not reflect their core values,” Erick Opeka, EVP of digital networks for Cinedigm, told VideoInk. “Then there’s a broader base of consumers who may not be evangelicals, but do believe in quality values-based programs for their families and kids. I think we’re addressing both of those audiences.”
And the audiences have responded. In the two and a half months since its launch, Dove Channel as racked up 70,000 registered users and over 250,000 app downloads.
Dove Channel has free ad-supported (AVOD) content, but it also has a $4.99 a month subscription option that offers ad-free viewing and access to premium content. The same model is used by Cinedigm’s OTT channel for genre fans, ConTV, and it will be adopted by its documentary channel Docurama in late February 2014.
While the AVOD offering generates revenue via ads, Cinedigm views it not as a profit center, but a self-sustaining subscriber acquisition tool.
“You get a lot more people into an AVOD experience versus a situation where you have to put your credit card in for a free trial,” Opeka explained.
Cinedigm is planning to roll out more OTT channels, all following the same formula: take an underserved niche audience with very large potential market that it can target with content from its library of over 52,000 films and TV episodes.
With Dove Channel, Cinedigm mixes library titles such as the series “The Great Heroes and Legends of the Bible” and “Abbott and Costello’s Funniest Routines Vol 1 and 2,” along with licensed content including such shows as “Highway to Heaven,” starring Michael Landon,” and Henson Productions’ “Fraggle Rock.” It’s also developing five to seven original programs to debut sometime next year.
“We want the channel to be broad-based across a lot of different genres and topics, with content for children, adults and families to watch together,” Opeka said. “No one library is going to cover it, so we go out and find things to fill in the gaps.”
Another ingredient in Cinedigm’s OTT formula is partnering with a company that can help it reach and serve its target audience. For ConTV, Cinedigm partnered with Wizard World, which produces 25 fan conventions annually. Its Dove Channel partner is the Dove Foundation, a Michigan-based nonprofit that has been reviewing, rating and endorsing films for family audiences for the past 24 years.
One of the selling points of Dove Channel is that its content can be searched and sorted using the Dove rating system, which ranks programs in six key criteria — sexuality, language, violence, drug and alcohol use, nudity and other. The channel also has specific descriptions to guide its viewers. For instance, it might note that a film is appropriate for children under 12, but the protagonist smokes a cigarette in one scene.
While Dove Channel is enjoying early success, it’s still a work in progress. Cinedigm recently announced a shift in strategy for ConTV, moving it away from its “Netflix for nerds” approach to focus more on you-are-there exclusive con coverage. The company won’t be shy about tweaking Dove Channel, either, should the need arise.
“It’s about putting on the channel content that people want as opposed to trying to tell them what they should have,” Opeka said.