How To Launch A New Channel In Today’s Smart TV Landscape

How To Launch A New Channel In Today’s Smart TV Landscape


At VIZIO, we add new content from partners at a pretty regular clip, with hundreds of FAST channels and fan-favorite streaming services.


One of the more recent, and successful, additions was POLARIS, a newly launched channel curated exclusively to VIZIO focused on Black history, culture, and entertainment as part of our Features program. Features is an exclusive content offering that leverages VIZIO’s first party, opted-in viewership data and homescreen targeting capabilities to deliver personalized content experiences to audiences via free ad-supported channels, movies, and shows across the VIZIO SmartCast® operating system.


After a December soft launch, POLARIS ramped up its promotion and content activity in January with dramatic results—a 6.5x month-over-month increase in sessions and a dramatic 18x increase in viewing minutes over the same period.


This wasn’t just luck. POLARIS made a number of very smart, savvy moves to guarantee success that any programmer can follow. Here they are: 


Placement & Targeting

POLARIS debuted in December as a “soft launch” without any significant on-screen promotion. We simply added the channel to the Lifestyle and Culture swimlane on our home page where interested viewers could find it.


In January, POLARIS was elevated to what’s called our “hero” carousel… the top Featured collection of movies, channels, and other content atop the SmartCast home screen. 


But at VIZIO, “Features” has a far greater meaning than just preferential placement. It also means using our data targeting capabilities to identify what content viewers want and then provide it to them with a bundle of content designed to super serve their interests. In the past we’ve offered this through Features like Fork & Flight and GamerNation. POLARIS is our first Features offer from a specific creator partner. 


We also used our viewer data insights to ensure SmartCast owners with the most interest in POLARIS’ content would see it as a recommended channel. 


Steve DeMain, VP of Engagement, VIZIO

“As a data-led effort, this allows us to be very prescriptive about how we find audiences and deliver them content that's relevant to them, whether that be content that they're predisposed to on VIZIO, or in streaming and linear environments.”



No content exists in a vacuum, and POLARIS is no different. Rather than seeking Featured placement right out of the gate after its December launch, POLARIS instead waited until Martin Luther King weekend. 


Both VIZIO and POLARIS wanted to take advantage of what was expected would be an increased interest in the news, movies, series, documentaries and more that POLARIS was in a unique position to offer at that time. 


Steve DeMain, VP of Engagement, VIZIO

“Across the FAST environment, news performs really well, because it's relevant to what's happening that day. So when POLARIS started to promote a MLK Marathon weekend, the programming was very specific to the weekend itself. There was content related to various parts of Dr. King’s speeches, all the way through music videos, to the history of Dr. King. So it was so relevant. That's how you retain viewing times.”


In order to amplify the benefit of both the featured placement and good timing, POLARIS took the rare extra step of regularly updating the creative components included in its homepage banner. Rather than simply reposting the same images used since launch, it updated those images to speak specifically to the moment… something few programmers take the time to create. 


Steve DeMain, VP of Engagement, VIZIO

“One of the challenges I see across all FAST services is there's a lot of generic creative that speaks specifically to the brand itself. But when you jump into the channel, it doesn't necessarily represent what that specific homescreen promotion reflected. You see that on a lot of platforms,” said DeMain. “But treating it as a true 24/7 network, as opposed to an extension of a network, definitely makes a big difference.”



Now naturally higher placement would result in more engagement. But POLARIS took advantage of that elevated placement with a number of very smart moves that caused the inevitable spike to not only over index what we’d typically see from such a placement, but that also allowed it to maintain a higher level of engagement even after the hero placement ended.


During the recent Big Game, for instance, POLARIS added several game-day related programming elements—including an interview with performer Eminem and a halftime show press conference—which increased average audience and average viewership minutes 2x.


These are steps any programmer can take to increase the profile of their content and elevate viewer engagement long after a short-term promotion runs its course. Among the key takeaways are: 

  • Be mindful of what’s happening in the world outside your programming schedule. When border cultural moments align with the unique perspective and authority you offer as a content provider, elevate your exposure on the home screen to strike while the iron is hot. 
  • Don’t dismiss the creative details. New creative gets attention and better leverages featured placement across screens. 
  • Know your niche! Have a point of view and an authoritative take that your community seeks, and they will seek you out. 


Steve DeMain, VP of Engagement, VIZIO

“Treating your content like a traditional TV network, and not just an extension of a network makes a big difference. If you look at a lot of the networks and FAST syndicated networks, it's mainly repurposed content that runs across multiple platforms. That works, because syndication historically has worked well. But there's something unique about creating this stickiness in this timely programming, then that draws in that audience and keeps the audience coming back.”


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