When HuffPost Live announced a deal with billionaire Mark Cuban’s AXS TV to air six hours of its social-heavy news-and-opinion programming on the cable channel every weekday, it was kind of a big deal. Not that AXS TV is a major cable name (it’s only available in 41 million of about 100 million US households), but it signified one of the few times a web video property has made the transition to TV, and that in itself was enough at this stage in the web video game to get everyone talking about the deal.
What’s interesting though is that HuffPost Live isn’t the first or the only online “news” network to find a home on TV.
Glenn Beck’s subscription-based online “news” network, TheBlaze, has been quietly chugging along ever since the conservative provocateur launched it in September 2011 (originally it was called GBTV, while TheBlaze was a conservative site modeled in many ways after The Huffington Post). Following a petition by Beck and TheBlaze to get its fans to call their TV providers and ask them to carry the channel, TheBlaze has been picked up by Dish Network, several small regional cable operators and most recently, Cablevision, which services 3.2 million customers in the NY area and will offer the network beginning this Memorial Day Weekend.
TheBlaze currently offers more than 40 hours of programming every week, including Beck’s own “The Glenn Beck Program” and a mix of “news”/opinion, late-night sketch comedy, family-friendly and documentary programming, as well as original specials. Unlike HuffPost Live, it’s available as its own channel on Dish, Cablevision and 11 independent cable operators in the US.
Around the time of the deal with Dish, TheBlaze’s subscriber total stood at 300,000, which was impressive considering it had launched only 12 months prior to that. Then this Wednesday, during a panel at Internet Week NY, Betsy Morgan, president and chief strategy officer of TheBlaze, said: “We have 300,000 people paying 10 bucks a month to subscribe to TheBlaze network,” and that the audience rivals “what some of the sports leagues are doing.”
To us, this says the network’s expansion to TV has had virtually no effect on the number of online subscribers. In other words, the crazies who chose to take that leap with Glenn Beck to the web have no problem staying there even though the network is now available on several pay-TV distributors. Granted, this might change once TheBlaze casts its cable net wider by securing deals with the other major pay-TV operators.
Speaking more broadly about the topic of subscriptions in online video, Morgan asserted the need for channels to focus on niche content and making a “direct offering” to passionate audiences, instead of trying to go for a broader “be-everything-for-everybody” type of approach. “We have been very specific about our content, and very specific about our audience, and we’ve built a nice revenue model in the last 18 months,” she said.
Calling her network “TV for the internet, not internet television,” Morgan said that the overall distribution strategy for TheBlaze is to simply make it available in the home of any consumer who is interested in the network’s content. “We don’t know how quickly the world becomes bundled or unbundled, and frankly, as content creators, we don’t care,” said Morgan. “The consumer will ultimately decide how they want to consume us.”
One can easily argue that the consumer has already made that choice with TheBlaze’s over-the-top network. But it will definitely be interesting to see how the network performs on the more traditional model.