Eyetronics deal beefs up production, acquisition for indie pubcaster

Indie pubcaster KCET has received a commitment of $50 million in financing from Eyetronics Media and Studios in a five-year deal to create and acquire series directly related to Southern California.

To kick off the arrangement, KCET plans to launch production on five new series before year’s end designed to air on the station. Eyetronics, headed by CEO Dominique Bigle, will package and distribute these and ensuing programs domestically and internationally.

Southern California people, places, culture, innovation and history — both celebrated and little-known — will be featured.

“These are programs that will resonate with the local community,” KCET prexy-CEO Al Jerome told Variety, adding that “Dominique is convinced there will be strong international appeal for this, and there historically has been.”

Bigle, a former Walt Disney Co. exec, cited the strength of public television stations in Europe and the global importance of Southern California as motivation for the Eyetronics investment, calling the deal with KCET “a chance to create in the U.S. a new way of television” that will emphasize production (in both fiction and nonfiction) but also include acquisition.

Jerome said that “in the next couple of weeks,” KCET would begin rolling out specific program announcements about the initial programs going into production.”We’re still working on the mix of the shows,” Jerome said. “It’s there, but we have more to choose from than we’re going to commit to up front.”

He noted that with the investment in increased production would come new hires at KCET.

“That will essentially be a self-contained unit that will work with the rest of our staff to produce these programs,” Jerome said. “There are other things we produce at KCET that are outside of this, so we want to make sure we have the firepower.”

Encino, Calif.-based Eyetronics will also make available TV movies, series, documentaries, cartoons, serials, newsreels and other rare footage from its so-called “Classic Cool Library.”

“There are a lot of interesting things that we can take advantage of as we do programming about the history of the entertainment industry, the history of technological innovation,” Jerome said. “Just the newsreels and movie trailers alone are fantastic.”

Asked about the state of KCET, Jerome said that after the initial dip in viewership when the split from PBS went into effect Jan. 1, the station has had audience increases in every daypart.

“On a sign-on to sign-off basis, we are actually 6% ahead of the PBS primary station (KOCE, rebranded as PBS SoCal) in the months of April-May-June.” Jerome said.

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