In something of a one-two punch of the day’s OTT-related news, basic cable network Bravo announced it will begin creating prime-time TV seven days a week, while specialty film unit Fox Searchlight announced it is creating a TV unit.
Both deals involve, ultimately, companies getting ready for the post-cable future of over-the-top programming. And for Searchlight, it’s also a very big hint about its role in a future where it’s a valued part of the Disney push into streaming video. In any case, both companies want to be seen by audiences as more than they have been, in the hope that their longstanding audience credibility will draw fans in the new platforms just ahead.
To review: Bravo has been a bright spot for NBC on the cable dial with a seemingly endless supply of reality shows (“Real Housewives,” “Vanderpump Rules,” “Top Chef”) that have been big hits through both live, linear tune-in and on VOD. Now the channel is moving into more scripted content, which tends to have a longer tail in VOD, and also expands the network’s potential audience reach.
In announcing the move to seven days a week, Bravo also announced 11 new shows to fill its schedule, including “Dirty John,” a scripted anthology show based on a hit podcast and featuring Eric Bana and primetime queen Connie Britton (“Nashville,” “Friday Night Lights”). Programs like “Dirty John” seem likely to give Bravo a better chance of breaking out in an OTT world, far beyond its existing unscripted base of hard-core fans.
Fox Searchlight has also become a brand name in the world of niche film programming, repeatedly picking up Oscar contenders. This year, it was the studio behind both Best Picture winner “The Shape of Water” (it also won three other Oscars), and that film’s biggest awards competitor, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (which won 2 acting Oscars and four Golden Globes).
For all of Searchlight’s awards and financial success, there had been some uncertainty about what might happen to the speciality division and its very high-end, very adult films should the $52.4 billion Disney acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox be approved. “Shape” and “Three Billboards” hardly fit in the family-friendly, blockbuster-franchise approach that Disney has perfected so profitably with its Marvel, Star Wars and Pixar acquisitions.
It’s hard to imagine a “Three Billboards” plush toy or animated series, though I confess some interest in whatever Disney might do with that fish-man-water god at the heart of “Shape.”
Regardless, Searchlight’s TV production rollout promises to give the film unit a place to go with whatever spinoffs and original series for grownup its execs come up with: first to Hulu, of which Disney would control 60 percent under the acquisition, and later to the Disney streaming service set to launch next year. Searchlight sensibilities would provide much-needed leavening to Disney’s relentless diet of family stuff that may bore viewers with more artsy and grownup content preferences.
It’s not the only news of note in the past 24 hours involving Hulu, which announced a $12.99/month bundle with subscription-music powerhouse Spotify. The bundle offer, built on a previous one for students only, comes with a lot of limitations, most notably that it’s available only in the United States. But for those able to take advantage, it creates an affordable and appealing option to control costs while accessing lots of music and name-brand TV shows.
Compared to an $11 per month Netflix subscription and $10 per month Apple Music, that’s a bargain, for a different, but still significant chunk of both music and video content. I’m guessing lots of people will find room in their subscription content budget for that kind of deal.
As companies position themselves for the future of streaming video, expect more of those kinds of bundles and mini-deals, and more opportunities for prized smaller units such as Bravo and Fox Searchlight to find new audiences in the United States and possibly far beyond.