Movie studio Legendary is branching out with a subscription app

Legendary Entertainment, the movie studio behind big films like Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy and “Jurassic World,” is getting into the subscription streaming app business in a small way.

A new $5-per-month app, called Alpha, isn’t an attempt by Legendary to exploit its existing library of blockbuster films. Instead, Alpha will serve as a “membership” hub for fans of two Legendary-owned digital publishers, Nerdist and Geek & Sundry. Starting November 3, the app will air 15 to 20 hours of new programming every week from both publishers. This includes new episodes of existing shows like Geek & Sundry’s “Critical Role” and “TableTop,” as well as all-new programming like “Escape,” in which host Janet Varney and celebrity guests are locked into rooms and have to solve puzzles to escape.

While movie studios aren’t exactly pouring money into building their own streaming apps, Legendary isn’t the first to do so. Lionsgate, for instance, has two subscription-based movie streaming apps in partnership with Tribeca and San Diego Comic-Con. Legendary’s Alpha is different in that it’s primarily focused on the studio’s digital media assets.

For Legendary Digital Networks, the division that oversees Nerdist and Geek & Sundry as well as other digital media properties like Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party, Alpha is part of an effort to become less reliant on advertising revenue. Today, as much as 75 percent of Legendary Digital Networks’ revenue comes from advertising.

“Creating premium-level content for niche audiences on an ad-supported basis alone is hard,” said Adam Ryder, president of Legendary Digital Networks. “You create content that means a lot to your community, but since they’re niche, you can’t get the level of brand sponsors you need to support the shows — which means ultimately you fall into the pattern of Kickstarters and getting dollars from the audience.”

Legendary’s digital publishers have found success using crowdfunding. Just last year, Geek & Sundry raised more than $1.4 million to produce the most recent season of “TableTop.” But there are limits to this approach. “As a corporation, it doesn’t feel authentic that every time we wanted to make a show, we would get it Kickstarted,” Rymer said.

A subscription app that consistently brings in revenue from subscribers is also more sustainable than trying to launch a new crowdfunding campaign for every new idea for a show, Rymer said.

There is some evidence that Nerdist and Geek & Sundry’s audience would be willing to pay for the content. Aside from successful crowdfunding campaigns, Geek & Sundry also has 23,000 people who pay $5 per month on Twitch.

With all of that in mind, it’s still incredibly difficult to convince anyone to download and then pay a monthly subscription for a streaming app.

Legendary is betting its publishers’ existing fan bases — both Nerdist and Geek & Sundry have millions of subscribers on YouTube — plus some interactive and offline perks will attract people to Alpha.

Aside from regular shows, Alpha will also produce live and interactive programming six days a week. This includes shows like “Choose Your Destiny: Improv Adventure,” in which viewers make suggestions for the improv comedy team featured in the show. Alpha also features chat rooms, forums, polling and other interactive features developed in-house by Legendary.

While Alpha isn’t a movie streaming platform, it will offer some feature films from Legendary and other movie studios. Here again the focus will be on interactivity, as Alpha will do “viewing parties” with Nerdist and Geek & Sundry personalities that subscribers can partake in. Other perks include live meetups at various Comic-Cons and monthly giveaways.

The community-centric approach to subscriptions is similar to how other niche streaming platforms, specifically DramaFever, Crunchyroll and Rooster Teeth, have been able to convince hundreds of thousands of people to pay for content.

“Ultimately, this is more about membership and creating a community hub than simply putting all of our content behind a wall,” Rymer said.

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