Photo via Matt Gibson/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Discovery Channel founder targets cord cutters with on-demand service

New on-demand service takes aim at lifelong learners.


Allen Weiner


Published Mar 17, 2015   Updated May 29, 2021, 7:01 am CDT

Tapping into the same audience that built Discovery Networks into a $13 billion media powerhouse, CuriosityStream enters the on-demand streaming market set on similar lofty goals.

“It’s the third step in the media revolution,” John Hendricks, CEO of CuriosityStream, founder of Discovery Networks, told the Daily Dot.

The third step Hendricks refers to is the evolution from broadcast to cable, and from cable to on-demand streaming. When he launched Discovery in 1985, Hendricks took his queue from the burgeoning success of HBO; for CuriosityStream, he points to Netflix as the bellwether for disruptive ways of delivering content.

CuriosityStream is a subscription-based streaming, video-on-demand service that features what Henricks calls curated factual programs in the areas of science, technology, civilization, and the human spirit. In order to capture and maintain the attention of younger audiences, the content generally falls under eight minutes in length. The service includes original works and licensed content from the BBC, NHK, and Flame Distribution, and is priced based on the consumer visual experience—$2.99 per month for standard resolution and $5.99 for HD.

Hendricks left Discovery Networks in March 2014 to pursue the idea behind CuriosityStream. The idea is based on a programming concept that dates back to 1987. Discovery had produced and aired a documentary called In the Company of Whales. Saddled with an expensive piece of programming, Hendricks looked for a means to recoup the company’s sizeable production investment.

“We used an 800 number to sell videocassettes,” explained Hendricks. “After four-to-five years, we sold about 40,000 copies at $19.99. People sent us the amount of their monthly cable bill (at the time) to get control of their own content.”

Out of that trial, Hendricks learned three lessons which he’s implemented in building CuriosityStream: Consumers want to have more control over what they watch and when; they will migrate to platforms that offer an experience that is closer to reality; and they want to watch without commercials.

In summary, Hendricks said, “People are willing to pay for convenience.”

As with other on-demand, streaming programmers, CuriosityStream is aimed at the cord cutter as well as what Hendricks calls “the light TV watcher.” And as with Discovery, the plan is to tap into those who have a thirst for knowledge and information.

“We recognize that our service will not appeal to 75 percent of all viewers,” explained Hendricks, “but 25 percent are eager to use media to learn something about the world. Our intention is to program to the lifelong curious.”

Hendricks estimated that of the 118 million households in the U.S., 18 million have neither cable nor satellite but have fast broadband. He characterizes them as faithful Netflix subscribers who are 25-to-35 years of age, and hopes to offer a programming option that satisfies viewers’ curiosities to complement other streaming options that focus on entertainment.

“I am revisiting where I was 30 years ago,” Hendricks said of his new service. “But now, I am packaging lifelong learning content for an entirely new audience.”

Photo via Matt Gibson/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Mar 17, 2015, 11:12 pm CDT