A year after rising from the ashes of the TV Guide Network, Pop is still making noise with viewers and advertisers—and the network is entering this year's upfront with a lot of confidence for a network that just turned 1.
As Michael DuPont, evp of ad sales, and his team hold upfront meetings—this year's theme is "Shift to Pop"—with clients, agencies and media planners around the country, Pop has announced a new slate of shows that represent 400 hours of original programming.
TV Guide Network relaunched as Pop in January 2015 with the new network targeting "modern grown-ups" who are pop culture enthusiasts.
While last year's upfront, which took place shortly after the rebrand, featured "a lot of showmanship," said Pop president Brad Schwartz, this year "there's no more selling any hype. We get to go into this upfront confident that what we built is working."
While ratings have been down across the industry, Pop—and TVGN before it—has experienced nine consecutive quarters of year-over-year growth. In Q4 of 2015, its "core sales demo" of women 25-54 was up 30 percent in total day viewers and 27 percent in prime time versus the previous year. In the 18-49 demo during the same quarter, Pop was up 27 percent in total day and 15 percent in prime time. Its main competitors, including Lifetime, Oxygen and Bravo, were down or flat in those demos during that same timeframe, said Schwartz.
Even more exciting for Pop in Q4 2015 was beating Oxygen's total viewers in prime time. "That was a big cheering moment in our offices because that was only our third quarter on the air as Pop. Oxygen is in more homes than us, they're part of NBC, they've been around for 20 years, and we beat them in prime, so we're starting to pick off our competitive set," said Schwartz. After recently being added to Cablevision and AT&T U-Verse's lineup, Pop is now distributed to more than 80 million homes.
"Ratings are up, distribution is up, we're closing the competitive gap, and we're doing it all at a more efficient rate than you can buy our competitive set for," said Schwartz.
And advertisers like what they see. Since the rebrand, Pop has added almost 100 new blue-chip advertisers, including 71 last year.
The network hopes to attract even more advertisers with its new shows, which include Nightcap, a scripted comedy starring Ali Wentworth that takes place behind the scenes of a fictional late-night talk show. It premieres this summer and features guest stars like Michael J. Fox, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker and Paul Rudd, who will appear on the talk show. Nightcap steps in for scripted comedy Queens of Drama, which isn't returning for a second season.
There's also Hollywood Darlings, a new reality series following '90s child stars and friends Jodie Sweetin (Full House), Christine Lakin (Step by Step) and Beverley Mitchell (7th Heaven) as they juggle work and family. It will debut next year.
Pop is developing another scripted comedy, The Joey McIntyre Project, starring the actor and New Kid on the Block singer as a fictionalized version of himself, who is "desperate for any kind of job in the entertainment industry" after the cancellation of his CBS sitcom, The McCarthys, said Schwartz. Executive produced by fellow New Kid Donnie Wahlberg and his wife Jenny McCarthy, the show hasn't been officially picked up to series, "but we're excited about that," said Schwartz.
Returning Pop series include reality shows Sing It On (which follows a competition for college a cappella groups), Rock This Boat: New Kids on the Block (a chronicle of the band's annual cruise with fans) and Unusually Thicke (featuring Alan Thicke and his family), as well as Easiest Game Show Ever (hosted by Michael Ian Black) and the live Big Brother after-show, Big Brother After Dark. Schitt's Creek, Pop's scripted comedy starring Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara, had its Season 2 premiere on March 16 and has already been renewed for a third season.
The channel's ratings gains haven't been restricted to prime time. "We had amazing success in daytime," thanks to syndicated shows like 90210, Melrose Place, The OC, Dawson's Creek and That '70s Show, said Schwartz. "Not only has it grown our total audience, but our daytime median age has gone down by 11 years" since last January, from 53 to 42.
Pop is spending 50 percent more on original and acquired programming this year compared to last year, said Schwartz, and plans to air four original series each quarter starting in 2017. "To get there in our third year of building this thing is a really nice place to be. It always gives audiences a reason to come to you," he said.
As it enters this year's upfront, Pop seeks to expand the business of the network's almost 100 new advertisers. Its competitors are underdelivering, "So advertisers are really not happy with those networks. We're delivering against our estimates, which, they applaud us when we walk into a room," said DuPont. "For the first time in the last two quarters, I've heard buyers actually say, you're getting X network's replacement dollars. Because they can't put it down, or they don't want to. It's good momentum for us."
The network plans to do more in the branded content space, after partnerships with two brands last year: a Hautelook holiday shopping spot featuring characters from Schitt's Creek and five Ricola spots with a cappella group The Nor'easters, from Season 1 of Sing It On. "One of our competitive advantages compared to everyone in our competitive set is that we offer a more creative option based on their marketing strategies and their timing needs. We're much more flexible, and it's a relatively lower cost of entry to do something like this," said DuPont.