On Wednesday, free of scrolling listings, the TV Guide Network is relaunching as Pop, a network catering to "enthusiastic fandom" in pop culture.
Pop is targeting a 35-45 audience that grew up in the late '80s and early '90s, a group that the network's president, entertainment and media, Brad Schwartz, is calling the "modern grown-up." (Pop has copyrighted the term, which is the network's version of Bravo's "Affluencer" and Syfy's "Igniter.") Instead of emulating E! or Bravo, Schwartz said the channel is patterning itself more after the pop culture-worshipping sensibilities of Jimmy Fallon and Ellen DeGeneres.
As Pop launches, all of TVGN's license agreements with its distributors remain intact, since the network—which will debut in more than 80 million homes—is still considered a general entertainment channel. "We're putting a different logo on it and a new energy and new programming, but we're still certainly exactly what we're defined to be," said Schwartz (who also oversaw the rebranding of Fuse). "We couldn't have turned this thing into a military channel or a sports channel or a kids channel, but what we're doing is exactly what our definitions are."
Pop's "great channel position" also hasn't been affected by the rebranding, aside from the "more analog distributors where TV Guide was still Channel 5," who have relocated next to channels like E! Even better, all market agreements for TVGN's much-maligned TV listing scroll—which had been the network's initial reason for existing—finally lapsed six months ago.
While AT&T and Cablevision still don't carry Pop, "we're in very active conversations with AT&T, and I imagine they'll come on line sooner rather than later. Cablevision is probably a little more down the line," Schwartz said. When and if those agreements are signed, Pop's subscriber base could jump to 90 million, "and then you're everywhere."
Pop's new original series will tap into that idea of fandom—the network will air Rock This Boat: New Kids on the Block (following the New Kids fan cruise), The Story Behind (a look behind the scenes of classic TV shows like Friends, ER and Full House), Sing It On (catering to Pitch Perfect fans by following six a cappella groups who are competing in the country's top competition), as well as live Oscars and Grammys red carpet specials with Entertainment Tonight. Pop will also air fan-favorite series like Melrose Place and Beverly Hills, 90210 (both the original Fox drama and the CW's reboot).
Pop's executives also hope to make a splash with the channel's original scripted comedy Schitt's Creek (debuting Feb. 11), a CBC co-production starring Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, about a once-rich video-store magnate family that goes broke and is forced to live in the tiny town they once purchased as a joke. It was created by Levy and his son Daniel, who worked for Schwartz at MTV Canada. Schwartz said the series "is poking at pop culture in a really funny way, almost like the opposite of the Kardashians. (Yes, Pop can utter the show's scatalogical name on the network, but not in advertising elsewhere. "We show it," said Schwartz of the title, "but you don't VO it.")
It's the culmination of Schwartz's yearlong process to rebrand the network. "You think of it as a Venn diagram and you're like, OK, let's start with 80 million homes and a black box and [co-owners] CBS and Lionsgate," he said. "So start there and don't put any restrictions on them. What do you want to do? Think wildly."
He and his team determined that "a complete revolution of the channel, where you completely alienate the people and start again with something fresh and new, is a very difficult road," as OWN learned when it struggled after rebranding from Discovery Health. Instead, they opted for "an evolution. Let's stay in this pop culture lane," and take advantage of parent company CBS' vast entertainment resources like Entertainment Tonight and Big Brother.
"Fandom, social media and these digital tools, they've created these borderless communities of people with shared passions," said Schwartz. "It's why Comic-Con has never been bigger. It's why there's a show called Talking Dead that does nothing but talk about another show. Fandom is this thing that's dominating culture these days. ... I think it's something that is a very appealing brand sensibility for advertisers."
Schwartz says part of getting rid of the TV Guide moniker was that, despite the recognition boost that comes with that name, Pop needed its own identity. "In this day and age where digital and multiplatform is everything, if you can't control your brand across all platforms, you really have to start again," he said. "It's a big decision to say we're going to go from a brand that everybody's heard of to a brand that nobody's heard of. But ultimately, we got to craft a brand new vision and a brand new excitement that seems to be resonating with a lot of people."
At the very least, that resonance seems to be extending to advertisers.
"We've added 40 new advertisers in the past year, so people are really being supportive," Schwartz said. "Although we have these great and powerful owners, we really are an independent cable network. We have our own sales team, our own distribution team. We are our own company. So in many ways we're like an underdog and we've got to be scrappy and we've got to be crusaders and we've got to try and fight all the big cable conglomerates."
And he's hoping to replicate what MTV did as it shifted from music videos to content and invited stars such as Ashton Kutcher to create shows like Punk'd. "They opened up their doors to celebrities and said, 'What do you want to do? What are your passion projects? Let's go have some fun and be creative,'" Schwartz said. "And I'm excited for us to build this into a channel where celebrities are like, 'Oh, we should go do that over at Pop!'"