In late 2018, when Jon Cody first started sharing his idea of a streaming service focusing exclusively on health content, some of his audiences were skeptical. Nobody questioned the increasing appetite for health-related content, nor the commercial potential. The concerns were around the medium itself.
“Streaming was the thing your kids were doing, right?” he recalls.
But when COVID-19 accelerated healthcare’s digital transition and triggered a broader reliance on technology, Cody’s vision proved prescient. Streaming, to parrot his phrasing, was now the thing you and your kids and your parents and everyone else was doing.
“A couple of things have happened globally that make the idea make more sense today than it did two or three years ago,” Cody notes. “Streaming is undeniable now that Disney and HBO and a lot of the other big guys have jumped in. That world is a lot less clunky.”
With last month’s launch of Digital Health Networks, the company entered the streaming mix with an ambitious offering primed to take advantage of the aforementioned trends in healthcare and technology. Showcasing a wealth of programming from organizations including the Mayo Clinic, the Cancer Research Institute and South Florida PBS’ The Health Channel, DHN aims to inform, inspire and entertain in equal parts.
“People are going to come to us for one purpose and stay for a bunch of others,” Cody says. “Maybe you want information on breast cancer and end up taking a look at Living on the Veg. There’s no single way we expect people to experience this.”
Indeed, DHN arrives fully formed, with a user-friendly interface (courtesy of platform partner Switch Media) and far more content than one would expect from a streaming startup.
“We think our advantages are scale, our production capabilities and experience. It’s hard to put something like this together if you haven’t done this before,” Cody says. Clearly, he qualifies: An attorney who served on the staff of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell, Cody has worked for Fox Entertainment Group and was founder and CEO of TV4 Entertainment. DHN was spun out of TV4 Entertainment earlier this year.
Less well known is how Cody’s life has been shaped by the health of those around him. He is the father of two children with special needs, one of whom was diagnosed with severe autism at 18 months of age (thanks to early intervention, the child has been mainstreamed into third grade). Cody also lost a close friend to an aggressive form of bile duct cancer at age 40, and still regrets not having had the opportunity to say goodbye.
In other words, DHN is as much a personal as a professional mission for him. “Healthcare is often contained with you and your family and your close friends. But once you start talking about it, it becomes communal,” he explains. “It hits at a very personal level, but the stories and feelings are universal.”
DHN cofounder and chief content officer Mike Hale believes that Cody’s experience as a parent and caregiver has given him a “tenacity of purpose” rarely seen in the media realm. It has also, Hale says, made him an effective and empathetic leader.
“You can’t go to school to become a CEO,” Hale explains. “The beauty about Jon is that he’s very calm and very measured. When things go bad, he’s the same person he is as when things go right.”
Hale also applauds Cody’s ability to set aside his own ego while bolstering the esteem of others. “He’ll listen to people and act on the best ideas, but when someone comes up with a clunker he always leaves them feeling good,” Hale continues. “That’s an art, it really is.”
As for those ideas and the content they have birthed, other health media plays have been limited by the both the volume and the consistency (both in terms of production quality and tenor) of their offerings. DHN, on the other hand, has unified around storytelling, even for its most clinical-minded content.
Take The Human Body, created in conjunction with Blausen Medical, which owns a library of medical and scientific illustrations as well as 3-D animations. From that abundant source material, DHN has created some 330 shorts about everything from hair loss to inguinal hernias.
Other content available at launch includes Redesign My Brain, The New Science of Food and The Surgeon and the Soldier. There are channels devoted to mental health, addiction and cancer, as well as ones specifically catering to medical professionals and parents. Cody expects the number of channels to expand to 25 by the end of 2022.
“Our purpose is healthcare stories,” Cody stressed. “Through those stories, we’re trying to help people to understand what their options may be, along the lines of, ‘Hey, whatever it is I’m facing, I’m not alone in this process.’ We’re not sitting here being doctors.”
The content slate will expand further during 2022 with a host of original content from DHN Studios, the company’s dedicated production arm. With studio space in Austin and Los Angeles (and New York City and Washington, DC, soon to follow), DHN Studios has already started production on This Week in Healthcare, Going Broke to Stay Alive (which will explore the undercovered realm of financial healthcare toxicity) and Horizons (billed as “a docuseries on the innovations of the near future in healthcare”).
DHN launched into a market more or less devoid of direct competitors, though there’s some topical overlap with The Able Channel and SurvivorNet. However, Cody declines to share the company’s viewership goals.
“I have expectations for numbers, of course,” he says. “But it’s easy to get somebody to come; what’s important is what they do when they’re here. I don’t need to see X million people, but I need to see a rabid audience that has taken to this brand and really held on to it.
“To some extent, we’re competing for people’s time with the Netflixes and Hulus of the world,” Cody continues. “But we want you to turn this on as a streaming service, not just as a medical service. I think we’re going to surprise some people.”