Nine months after giving birth to Pivot, an entertainment network aimed at inspiring Gen Y viewers to push for social change, network president Evan Shapiro is one happy programmer.
While Pivot (like Netflix) is not rated, Shapiro says viewership is ahead of projections and advertisers and cable companies are clamoring to get Pivot’s research findings on the coveted demographic every network wants.
The network, which targets millennials, those ages 18-35, launched last August with a slate of series, variety shows and documentaries pegged to various social causes. Its parent company Participant Media, founded by former eBay president and social entrepreneur Jeff Skoll, produces films to inspire social change (The Help, An Inconvenient Truth).
Pivot, now available in 44.5 million homes, is charged with doing the same on the television front.
Shapiro, hired in 2012 to develop and launch Pivot, previously ran IFC TV and Sundance Channel as president, steering the two networks toward new business and programming models that netted Primetime Emmy nominations for both. Today, the 47-year-old exec is an expert on television’s most desired target audience.
“We call them Gen Why,” says Shapiro, sitting in his Beverly Hills office.
“This generation grew up with the Internet and technology, which is full of promise, but everything they do will be a reflection of 9/11 and the chaos that happened afterward. They’re highly engaged in social causes.”
In other words, if you want your brand to matter to younger consumers, your company has to show how it’s making the world a better place, Shapiro says.
Pivot and Nielsen recently released the “Generation Why Segmentation Report,” a study of 3,000 adults, ages 18 to 34 that identified distinct segments of Gen Y (available on Tumblr at pivotupstanders.com). Findings showed that the most passionate and engaged Gen Yers were more willing to pay for premium brands, more likely to change brands based on a company’s values, watch more TV across all platforms, and expect TV programming to take on important issues.
Shapiro says these consumers are more likely to drop out of the current TV ecosystem because they expect more value for their money. Instead of paying for 100 channels when they only watch eight regularly, this segment is more likely to tune into content they can pick and choose on tablets and smartphones.
Pivot is the first network to offer an app to distributors — available live and on-demand for multiple digital devices – that companies can sell to existing broadband-only subscribers. To date, no cable companies have bitten. Twenty million DISH and DirecTV subscribers, however, have direct access to the free Pivot app if the network is part of their subscription package.
“We believe a third of all cable subscribers are thinking about doing away with TV,” Shapiro says. “That’s billions of dollars of revenue coming out of TV subscription fees. We want to help grow pay TV over time, and create long-term sustainability. The industry has to adapt to how programming will be viewed in the future.”
The key to drawing Gen Y viewers, he says, is entertainment that sparks conversation and inspires change. Back in 1972, All In the Family was TV’s highest rated show, prompting millions to talk about social issues ranging from racism to abortion every week.
“We no longer co-mingle different opinions,” Shapiro says. “Fox talks to conservatives. MSNBC talks to liberals. There’s a desire for a hearth to discuss communal differences, and entertainment is the key.”
One of Pivot’s most popular shows is TalkBack Live, a late-night talk show that continues its conversations online through Takepart.com, where viewers can also pledge donations, sign petitions and take other actions on various social causes.
Upcoming offerings include Fortitude, an eco-thriller series set in the Arctic that stars Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon and Sienna Guillory; the second season of Please Like Me, a coming-of-age comedy about family, sexuality and mental health, and Welcome to Fairfax, a docu-series about friends and collaborators living in an urban renewal area of Los Angeles.
While Shapiro declines to discuss dollars, he says Pivot has inked deals with blue chip national advertisers like Monster.com, Silk and Hyundai to create branded content that airs across all its platforms.
Unlike strictly commercial networks, Pivot’s objective is to increase social change, says Shapiro, whose bonuses are based on achieving increases in both revenue and social change. It’s a structure that puts the network’s money where its mouth is.
“I’ve spent a good deal of my life working at companies where making change is central,” Shapiro says. “Here, it’s all about change. Pivot is dedicated to the generation that’s going to make the change the world very much needs.”