In August 2017, digital video news publisher The Young Turks Network raised $20 million from Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg’s WndrCo to grow its subscription business. A year later, it has, though not without a hiccup.
TYT Network has “a little over 27,000 subscribers” who pay from $5 to $10 a month to watch the company’s shows sans ads and to access exclusive programming and other perks, according to TYT Network CEO Cenk Uygur. Last August, TYT Network said it had 30,000 paying subscribers, which Uygur says was wrong. “There was a technical error on our website that caused a misreporting of that number,” he said, adding that the company has not seen a decline in its subscriber base.
In fact, TYT Network has seen an increase in subscriber revenue, despite adding a lower-priced subscription option earlier this year. Historically subscription revenue accounted for around 30 percent of the company’s overall revenue, which includes money from advertising and merchandise sales, but the business has grown to account for “almost 50 percent” of the company’s overall revenue, he said, declining to provide actual figures or to say whether the company is profitable.
However, for a time, TYT Network’s subscription business wasn’t growing much at all, despite the company’s efforts. In April 2018, TYT Network debuted a mobile app in a bid to boost its subscription business. The app marked the first time the company had made all of its content available in one place: The paywalled content from its site as well as the free videos and podcasts it distributes on platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Spotify. While the app included content for non-subscribers, that was largely in hopes of convincing people using the app to sign up for paid memberships. But it appeared that people had a hard time seeing past the membership program’s $10-a-month price point.
TYT Network’s subscriber base remained relatively flat “for a long time” until June 2018, according to Uygur. That month, TYT Network introduced a lower $4.99-a-month tier and reserved some perks, like invites to company events and a swag bag, for the $10 tier. The company had tested the reduced price and saw that people were 2.4 times more likely to sign up for the $4.99 option than the $10 tier, said Uygur. The company informed its existing subscribers about the lower-priced option, and “out of 23,500 subscribers at the time, only 60 downgraded” to the $4.99 tier, he said. In the two months since adding the lower-priced tier in June, the company’s subscriber base has increased by 15 percent to more than 27,000 subscribers, a majority of whom pay for the $10 tier, said Uygur.
However, TYT Network needs to attract many more subscribers to reach Uygur’s ideal goal of subscriptions accounting for 80 percent of the company’s revenue. One option to achieving that end would be to invest in other types of programming to attract different audiences. The company tried that; it didn’t work. Best known for its political-news coverage, it had tried to expand into producing shows about pop culture. Recently, TYT Network shut down some of those shows and laid off an undisclosed number of employees as a result.
“I loved those shows, but we’ve got to focus on our core here,” he said, referring to programs that appeal the company’s politically minded, progressive audience.
To further focus on its core audience and convince those viewers to sign up for its subscription program, TYT Network updated its website last week to mimic its mobile app by featuring all of the company’s content. TYT Network will host a five-month membership drive starting on Labor Day.
“For the entirety of our existence, which is now unbelievably 16 years, we have pieced together a website with duct tape and WordPress,” said Uygur. “Now we’ve got a real website where people can come to see all of our shows, articles and podcasts.”
Get more exclusive coverage and analysis around the modernization of video, TV and entertainment by subscribing to the weekly video briefing email.