Cinedigm Looks To Distribute Niche Streaming Channels To Replace A Fading Digital Projection Business
Bob Ross, the decisively chill artist whose show The Joy of Painting made him an 80s-era icon for the PBS faithful, is seeing renewed fame more than 25 years after his death.
Ross’ gentle manner and an expressive love of natural beauty was at the core of appeal, as he walked his audience through his process of transforming blotches of paint on a canvas into intricate landscapes dotted with what he described as “happy” clouds and trees.
On air for 31 seasons, Ross has found revival in a new age, with his show now carried by Amazon Prime Video and Disney’s Hulu, even as his social media presence has mushroomed on YouTube and Twitch. Now thanks to a Cinedigm, a company with its roots in digital cinema that has since pivoted to distributing online content, Ross will soon stand shoulder to shoulder with that most iconic of Dead Celebrities, Elvis Presley
“People love Bob Ross,” said Erick Opeka, chief strategy officer of Cinedigm, which negotiated the exclusive rights to distribute The Bob Ross Channel online. “He’s an icon of just chill contemplation and he was the right guy at the right moment.”
The Bob Ross Channel that Cinedigm created a year ago and distributes now attracts some 6 million monthly viewers across 20 different platforms, including Samsung TVs and Roku devices and ad-supported services like NBCUniversal’s Peacock, ViacomCBS’ Pluto TV and Fox’s Tubi. In January, the company will add an Elvis Channel in partnership with Authentic Brands Group, the New York-based firm that owns Elvis Presley Enterprises. The partners hope the channel, which aims to debut a few months ahead of a major film release about the King by director Baz Luhrmann.
“Can you think of a bigger brand or icon than Elvis on a global basis, that has rabid fans across all demographics across all territories, young, old, who can’t get enough of him?” said Cinedigm CEO Chris McGurk. “To our mind it’s just sort of a natural extension of our strategy. It’s not a genre. It’s not a sports team. It’s a celebrity icon with millions of rabid fans.”
Cinedigm is hoping to ride the streaming wave into the future, as it exits a dying theatrical equipment licensing business that was pummeled by the pandemic. The company once helped theater owners make the costly transition from film prints to digital, but that business began fading in 2015, prompting McGurk to seek a foothold in online distribution. Cinedigm found new backers that bought into the strategy, helping the company survive the threat of having its stock delisted from the NASDAQ exchange in 2020. In March, it sold off $10.8 million worth of cinema equipment to AMC, and used the proceeds to pay off debt.
The company posted a nearly $10 million loss in the December quarter, though analysts like Brian Kinstlinger of Alliance Global Partners say they’re bullish about the company’s future, pointing to revenue from its ad-supported business growing 150% year over year.
Cinedigm’s growing roster of celebrity icons is a facet of its overall strategy to appeal to passionate audiences and create streaming channels that cater to their shared obsessions. In the past year, that company made five acquisitions, including Fandor, a darling among the indie film lovers, Screambox, a streaming service that caters to horror fans, and Films Around the World, with its collection of classic films from the 1940s through the ‘80s. In total, Cinedigm operates 17 channels with about 8,000 hours of programming and has earmarked as much as $100 million for future acquisitions.
“It feels to us that momentum is building towards even larger deals or bigger partnerships,” wrote Daniel Kurnos, an analyst with Benchmark.
Taping the enduring appeal of lost icons is not exactly a cutting edge shift, but it is well timed. Forbes has been tracking the business of fallen icons since 2001, when it published the first Dead Celebrities ranking, which last year landed Elvis at No. 5 with $23 million.
Kurnos estimates The Bob Ross Channel could generate annual revenue of up to $6 million, adding to the money Bob Ross Inc. collects from the sale of books, T-shirts and other branded merchandise. The Elvis channel could, of course, be far bigger, with its exclusive rights to hours of content featuring the King, including the Elvis ’68 Comeback Special, the Elvis Aloha From Hawaii and Elvis by the Presleys, set in Graceland. It’s also negotiating for the rights to popular films like Blue Hawaii and G.I. Blues to the channel.
“They’re all about trying to acquire exclusive content, which is gold,” said Steven Nason, research director for Parks Associates, a firm that tracks the nation’s streaming services. “Because very few have access to exclusive content.”
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