With everyone from ESPN to Turner set to launch new over-the-top networks, the OTT video space is getting more crowded with every passing day. But that's not stopping Time Inc., the publisher of storied titles like Time and Sports Illustrated, from entering the fray. This Tuesday, the company is officially launching the People/Entertainment Weekly Network, a new ad-supported long-form video-on-demand network (AVOD) that purports to be the first solely pop culture- and celebrity-focused entry in the category.
First announced at Time Inc.'s NewFronts presentation in May, the network—PEN for short—marks a major investment for the 94-year-old media company, which has spent the past several years aggressively expanding its digital and video businesses in an effort to combat the industrywide problem of declining print ad sales.
"If you look at the subscription business, there are a lot of niche brands that have recently launched, but if you look at the straight AVOD business, it's definitely an interesting area," said Bruce Gersh, svp of brand business development. "These two brands coming together as the first blue-chip brands entering the ad-supported OTT space is a really great opportunity for us."
Of course, there's already plenty of other similar celebrity- and Hollywood-themed content at consumers' fingertips on every platform. But Time Inc. is betting that the People and EW names—and their combined cross-platform audience of more than 108 million, according to the MPA—will set its offerings apart. "They're both really distinctive brands," said People and EW editorial director Jess Cagle. "All the content we do at People is meant to entertain and inspire and empower the audience. Entertainment Weekly makes you feel like you're completely plugged into pop culture by being smart and funny and first. All of the programming, whether it's incredibly groundbreaking or not, is going to reflect those values."
In addition to the 50 or so hours of existing Time Inc. programming that will be available in the PEN video library at launch—including Time's Emmy-nominated documentary series A Year in Space—the network plans to roll out upwards of 300 hours of new programming throughout the year. Some of the 15 original series premiering this month will include EW Reunites the Cast Of, based on the magazine's popular reunion specials (the first episode will bring together the cast of NBC's Friday Night Lights); The Jess Cagle Interview, featuring one-on-one discussions with actors like Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Lopez; People Cover Story, which dives into the week's cover feature; and the documentary The Children of 9/11.
Time Inc. is also hoping that viewers will tune in for live content, starting with a red-carpet special at the 2016 Emmy awards this Sunday. Specials focusing on the brands' flagship issues, like Sexiest Man Alive and World's Most Beautiful, as well as tent-pole events from across the company, including Sports Illustrated Swimsuit and the Time 100, will debut throughout the year. Distribution deals with Apple TV, Comcast Xfinity, Google Cast, Pluto TV, Roku and Xumo, as well as dedicated iOS and Android apps and a content hub on people.com will make the content accessible on almost any platform.
While the network will require a sizeable financial investment on the part of Time Inc. in order to compete in the OTT arena, it also allows the company to take further advantage of its existing digital video assets, including the state-of-the-art studio at its new headquarters in downtown New York, and the video it already shoots for many of its stories. Long-form content produced for PEN will also have the potential for a second life as video clips on Time Inc.'s digital platforms, which will help drive viewers to the new network.
So far, a handful of big-name advertisers have signed on, including L'Oréal, NBC, MillerCoors and Alcon. Initially, all four brands will be running traditional ad spots on the network, but viewers can expect to see new ad formats and custom content in the future, said Gersh.
The addition of PEN to Time Inc.'s portfolio should be attractive for more video-hungry advertisers, said Brian Wieser, a senior analyst at Pivotal. "A lot of it comes down to the fact that you've got a relatively fixed budget with a given media owner, and if you can get a video asset as part of your spend, then you'll do that. At the end of the day, the media owner is primed to retain their share of wallet that they had, and these [OTT] properties can be tools to help support that." Still, Wieser added, "It's really hard because there are so many new media brands that are servicing consumers and advertisers in the same space. And unless significant investments are made by the media owner, the property becomes an interesting add-on but nothing important."
This story first appeared in the September 12, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.