Terms for the transaction were not immediately revealed by either company. In 2013, CBS invested $100 million in half of the network, when it was still known as the TV Guide Network, or TVGN. It was rebranded in 2015 as Pop and soon had a critical favorite and steady performer in the comedy Schitt’s Creek. More recently, the Anna Paquin-starring Flack has garnered the network some attention.
Pop’s approach to programming has been tweaked multiple times in the past several years. While the network remains well-penetrated, it has struggled to mount a lineup of multiple must-see shows during the current glut of original programming across digital and linear platforms.
In a memo to employees, CBS chief content officer David Nevins said Pop president Brad Schwartz would continue in his current role, reporting to Nevins. The company views the network “as another important outlet for CBS-produced content, both original series and secondary runs of off-network and library programming,” Nevins wrote.
CBS had no other statement about the transaction.
“We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished together with our partners at CBS in building Pop into a nationally distributed platform,” said a Lionsgate spokesman in a statement. “Pop is a great fit for CBS’ portfolio of businesses, and they are the ideal company to take Pop to the next level of performance under the continued leadership of Pop President Brad Schwartz. Lionsgate Television will continue to supply its original content, like the upcoming series Florida Girls, to the platform.”
Full control of Pop gives CBS an ad-supported cable network to fit in between Showtime on the premium end and CBS on the wide-audience broadcast end of the spectrum. The company also has CBS Sports Network and ad-supported digital channels like CBSN and CBS Sports HQ.
General entertainment networks, once anchor tenants in the pay-TV bundle, are increasingly looking expendable to distributors eager to reduce carriage fees and create more coherent packages for choosy viewers. While many cable networks have decades of brand equity, their programming is not viewed as is once was, which has eroded ratings and put pressure on advertising. AT&T’s skinny-bundle service DirecTV Now recently set plans for new bundles that ditch entertainment channels from Viacom, A+E, Discovery and others.
The Wall Street Journal had the first report of the deal.
Here is the full text of Nevins’ memo to CBS employees, which was sent late Monday:
Good afternoon, everyone. I have some exciting news today to share about Pop TV, which, as you know, has been a very successful joint venture between CBS and Lionsgate. Going forward, Pop will be 100 percent owned by CBS, and we are very excited about its next chapter as a fully integrated part of our global premium content company.
In short order, Pop has made a big impression as a general entertainment cable network that punches well above its weight. Under the terrific leadership of Brad Schwartz, this young network has established a distinct brand with inventive programming and a scrappy, competitive drive that has made them one of only three ad-supported cable networks in the entire industry to grow its total audience for six consecutive years.
In the process, they have also birthed a signature series with the critically acclaimed Schitt’s Creek, a show that was on 30 year-end best lists in 2018 and continues to grow in ratings every year. Pop has continued their programming momentum with the well-reviewed Flack starring Anna Paquin, currently in its first season, and the upcoming Florida Girls.
Going forward, Pop will continue on its path of developing idiosyncratic, comedy-leaning original programming for the network. We also see Pop as another important outlet for CBS-produced content, both original series and secondary runs of off-network and library programming.
With ownership under one roof, we also hope to explore more opportunities where Pop can be part of content and marketing initiatives across all CBS-owned platforms. By way of example, Pop has collaborated successfully with the CBS Television Network for several years on the late night companion series BIG BROTHER AFTER DARK and with other cross-platform ideas.
Pop will be integrated into the Company as part of the CBS Cable Network Segment with Brad reporting to me.
We believe that by bringing Pop closer to the CBS and Showtime creative and business operations, we can help unlock value and drive growth at Pop TV.
Lastly, I would like to acknowledge Jon Feltheimer and our colleagues at Lionsgate, who have been terrific partners in our joint venture to launch and grow Pop. We thank them for everything they’ve done to support Pop along the way and bring us to this point.