How do you draw digital-centric millennials to a new entertainment company? If you answered, “Start another social media service, website, or premium entertainment service,” you'd be wrong.
For some, the better answer is to start an old-fashioned cable network.
Big-time movie producer Participant Media ("Lincoln," "The Help,” "An Inconvenient Truth") which started a TV division in April, is looking to do that through the combined assets of Jim Henson Company, TV producer/ex-MTVer Brian Graden, and others.
The proposed as-yet-unnamed channel hopes to start with more than 40 million subscribers next summer.
All this would seem counterintuitive: Why not start a new digital business -- something young consumers 18-24 and 18-34 seemingly want more of? Participant believes it's all about telling stories -- which TV does well.
The truth is somewhere in between. Research shows that television viewing continues to grow. But young viewers increasingly multitask, which many say hurts consumption of traditional TV entertainment and advertising content.
Lean back and watch TV? Young viewers still watch CW, MTV, Adult Swim, and early-evening syndicated off-network sitcoms. The answer seems to be that young viewers are still looking for real story-telling.
Much of the new channel's intent might be in the documentary area – perhaps akin to "An Inconvenient Truth," Participant’s socially conscious theatrical movie, perhaps taking on Current, the young-minded news channel. (Participant did buy assets of The Documentary Channel.)
And then there is this: "The goal of Participant is to tell stories that serve as catalysts for social change. With our television channel, we can bring those stories into the homes of our viewers every day," said Jeff Skoll, chairman and founder of Participant, in a press release.
Is this what young viewers want from traditional TV? Surely, the new channel will have digital components like a website and social media area -- all the stuff a modern media/entertainment enterprise needs.
The sense is that while all future digital media is important, near-term the real business model will center around the place that still brings in the big national advertisers dollars, through a somewhat traditional -- make that cable -- TV network.