So Long TVGN, Hello NKOTB: What's Behind the Network's Rebrand as Pop

Schitt's Creek Still - H 2014
Steve Wilkie

Schitt's Creek Still - H 2014

The channel is taking on E! and Bravo with a focus on fans and "modern grown-ups"

This story first appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

First, Style became Esquire. Then Bio transformed into FYI. Now another cable network is attempting a bold rebrand. On Jan. 14, viewers in 80 million homes that receive TVGN (formerly TV Guide Network) will discover a new name and look. The rebranded Pop network will offer fresh graphics, some original programming and reruns of 1980s and '90s shows including Beverly Hills, 90210, Melrose Place and Joan of Arcadia.

Read more POP Orders First Scripted Series

Brad Schwartz, Pop's president of entertainment and media, says the goal is to reach a younger audience, what he calls "modern grown-ups" — adults 25-to-54, with a microtarget of 35-to-40. "We want it to be the next step in pop culture," says Schwartz, who arrived shortly after CBS and Lionsgate took joint ownership of the flailing channel in March 2013. "But how do you do that differently than the Bravos and E!s and everybody else? We looked at what was going on in culture, and the thing that really popped for us, for lack of a better word, was this idea of fandom."

With social media creating communities with shared passions, Pop will attempt to cater to a savvier consumer. "Those who watch Scandal call themselves gladiators, and fans of New Kids on the Block are Blockheads," says Schwartz. "There was this really interesting personality around fandom that was optimistic, fun, funny and positive."

Read more TV Guide Network to Rebrand as POP

Executives tested hundreds of names, says senior vp marketing Nicole Sabatini. Pop provided instant identity without alienating TVGN viewers, which averaged 125,000 a day during the third quarter. That's far below fandom shows like AMC's Talking Dead (about The Walking Dead), which attracts about 1.1 million viewers. The launch campaign primarily revolves around Pop's first original shows: Rock This Boat, a reality series about a fan cruise with New Kids on the Block; and Schitt's Creek, a scripted comedy starring Eugene Levy. "Rebranding creates interest and helps to redefine, but in the end, it's a breakthrough show that puts any network on the radar," says Bill Carroll, vp at Katz Television Group.

Schwartz declined comment on what this all costs but describes Pop as a startup: "Being an independent cable network today, you have to be scrappy, have a lot of fun and be innovative."