With CuriosityStream, Discovery Channel founder seeks online success

The founder of the Discovery Channel, an early cable-TV hit, is turning to online streaming with a new subscription service called CuriosityStream.

John Hendricks started Discovery Channel in 1982, after watching HBO succeed in the 1970s. He made a fortune and left as chairman of parent company Discovery Communications last spring to pursue his new venture.

On Wednesday, CuriosityStream launched with about 600 series, feature-length documentaries and 20-minute-or-shorter clips on science, technology and history.  Access costs $2.99 a month for standard-definition picture quality and $5.99 a month for high definition. The first month is free.

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CuriosityStream is expected to feature a mix of content acquired from BBC, NHK and other producers as well as original programming. Aimed at the “curious” population, the programming should be understandable, Hendricks says, to everyone from 13-year-olds who enjoy building soda-bottle rockets to retirees looking for deep commentary on the latest scientific breakthroughs.

Because the cost of producing “factual content” is about one-fourth to one-sixth that of “dramatic content,” the service won’t need to show ads, Hendricks said. He expects about 400 titles to be added this year, including a signature original production called “Big Picture Earth.”

Hendricks said his service isn’t a threat to big brands like Discovery or Netflix. Since many people who fit into the targeted user base of academics, techies and subject experts have high incomes, he said, they’ll be able to afford two or all three of those services.

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Some of CuriosityStream's original programming will be developed at the company’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., across the street from Discovery.

The Maryland location makes more sense than a base in Los Angeles, according to Hendricks, because it’ll be easier to film interviews with the large number of experts who visit government, academic and cultural institutions in Washington, D.C.

Hendricks said he watches CuriosityStream on a 84-inch television using Apple’s AirPlay casting functionality. His favorites include “Cosmic Front,” a 15-part series on space exploration, and “Twilight of Civilizations,” which explores the fall of the Roman Empire.

“I’m a science buff, and I was a history major in college,” Hendricks said.

Chat with me on Twitter @peard33

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