Pop Hopes Its Linear-Loving Audience Will Help It Make Noise in the Upfront

5 years of ratings growth, but a possible merger could slow it down

Schitt's Creek, Pop's most-watched series, will return with a holiday special in December ahead of Season 5's premiere in January. Pop
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As linear ratings continue to plummet throughout the industry, Pop network is heading into the upfront with an intriguing proposition for buyers: One-third of its audience is watching more linear TV than ever before.

Much of that additional TV viewing is occurring on Pop itself, which has now seen five years of consecutive growth in total viewers. In the most recent quarter, its target demo of women 25-54 saw year-over-year growth of 13 percent in total day ratings, while the adults 25-54 demo jumped 8 percent in total day.

The company is in the midst of 250 meetings with clients and agencies around the industry to present its upfront slate, as well as sharing the results of the segmentation and ethnography study of Pop’s audience—entertainment-loving viewers in their 30s and 40s whom the network calls “Modern Grown-ups”—conducted by Miner & Co. Studio. “We spent a lot of money to know our audience better than ever before, and advertisers can take advantage of that knowledge,” said Pop president Brad Schwartz.

The study separated Pop’s core audience into three groups: Mod Moms (who are the CEOs of their home and see TV as family time), Modernistas (who are single, spend money on travel and see TV as “me time” that makes them happy) and Modern Mates (who are plugged in, and love finding new TV shows and recommending them to friends).

All of them, however, are united by “this desire for nostalgia and fun and familiarity,” Schwartz said, which is why Pop focuses on shows “that are a new twist on something you’re already familiar with” and an alternative to “the dark stuff on other networks, and in the world.” He said Stranger Things and Glow, both of which are on Netflix, are perfectly in Pop’s wheelhouse.

When Pop rebranded from TV Guide Network in 2015, the network focused solely on linear but has been slowly building up its digital platform. This upfront, the network, which is jointly owned by CBS and Lionsgate, has tapped CBS Interactive to sell inventory in all of its digital platforms for the first time.

Schwartz hopes to expand the partnerships the network has made with digital brands for several of its shows—like Hollywood Darlings (which returned last week for Season 2) and Scary Mommy—to create digital content featuring the shows’ cast, which can then be sponsored by brands.

As it builds up its original slate, Pop now has premium original content on the air every month.This summer will see the return of Big Brother After Dark, its Big Brother aftershow, as well as Season 2 of Swedish Dicks, about private detectives solving minor cases in L.A. Keanu Reeves, who appeared in several episodes last season, will return for eight of 10 episodes.

Those shows will be joined by Clique, Pop’s first attempt at a soapy scripted drama to complement its syndicated slate of shows like Beverly Hills, 90210 and Dawson’s Creek. The BBC co-production is about college students drawn into a clique of girls interning for a corrupt corporation; Season 2 has already been ordered and will air in early 2019.

Season 2 of Wolf Creek, based on the horror film about a serial killer at work in the Australian outback, will return in October. And Pop will air a holiday episode of its top-rated series, the comedy Schitt’s Creek, in December ahead of the show’s fifth season, which will premiere in January.

Also debuting early next year is Flack, a dark comedy about celebrity public relations— “Scandal meets Shameless and Ray Donovan,” Schwartz said—starring Anna Paquin as a publicist in London.

Pop’s development slate, which includes several spins on familiar shows, is headlined by The Demons of Dorian Gunn, which Schwartz said is Pop’s most expensive pilot ever. The show, about a New York socialite (Search Party’s Jeffrey Self) who finds out he’s from a long line of demon hunters and needs to save the world, is “a modern-day Buffy,” Schwartz said.

Once again, Pop is offering brands the opportunity to create branded content featuring its casts. “You can always work with us at much cheaper, much more efficient entry points,” said Schwartz, who pointed to a humorous Zillow spot featuring the cast of Hot Date and a Lysol spot with actors from Schitt’s Creek. “When this ad runs within the show, it just feels like content, so no one’s fast-forwarding through that,” he said.

As Schwartz is playing up Pop’s momentum in the upfront, he realizes that his network’s future is more uncertain if parent company CBS ends up merging with Viacom.

“It’s not lost on us that right now, we are CBS’ only nationally distributed, general entertainment cable channel, and that’s a really nice place to be,” Schwartz said. “But there might be a day soon when they have 20 channels. We’ll have to figure out what that means for us. But as for now, we’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing. We love the brand we’re building.”

And so do Pop’s joint owners. “The fact that we keep growing and our scatter pricing is up 40 percent right now—I think it’s going to be a strong upfront for us,” Schwartz said.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.