Garth Ancier Lines Up TV Vets to Launch Four Retro Cable Nets (EXCLUSIVE)

Garth Ancier

Former BBC America prexy’s Zeus Media Partners aims for Q2 2014 debut of decade-themed channels

Longtime TV exec Garth Ancier is going retro with a new cable networks venture, and he’s brought industry veterans Diane Robina, Alan Goodman and Michael Ross along for the trip.

Ancier, CEO and partner of newly formed Zeus Media Partners, is in active discussions with pay-TV operators to carry a suite of four channels stocked with TV shows from four decades — the 1960s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

The pitch: Zeus nets will be free to cable, satellite and telco TV operators and supported by advertising. Ancier’s company is aiming to launch the channels in the second quarter of 2014.

“We have been looking at literally every show that was made in these eras,” said Ancier, former BBC America prexy and chairman of WB Television Network. The concept is patterned after Sirius XM’s satellite radio channels grouped by decade.

The Zeus project will compete most directly with Viacom’s TV Land, which has been home to classic TV programs for 17 years — and it’s a network both Robina and Goodman are intimately familiar with.

Robina, who leads content acquisition for Zeus, was previously head of programming for TV Guide Network and helped launch TV Land when she was at MTV Networks. Goodman, heading up handling creative and marketing, was one of the co-creators of the Nick at Nite programming block, from which TV Land was spun out.

Meanwhile, Ross formerly led business affairs for BBC America, The CW and WB Network. He has joined Zeus as chief operating officer and CFO.

“My strategy is to take a couple of gray-haired people who really know what they’re doing,” along with younger up-and-comers “who can bring fresh ideas to the table,” Ancier said.

The Zeus channels are expected to have programming costs averaging $50 million per year. “For four cable networks that’s not bad,” said Ancier, noting that the company is attempting to secure TV Everywhere distribution rights in addition to linear TV.

Zeus Media incorporated in April, and is currently funded by the partners. To launch the nets, the company will bring in outside investors.

For Ancier, the key to building audiences nostalgic for skeins from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s will be in curation and show-discovery strategy. Zeus is seeking adjacent placement for the four channels, and the idea is that at the top of the hour they’ll each run a roadblock promoting next-up programming on all four.

Retro TV is an untapped opportunity, to hear Ancier tell it, with about 80% of shows from those four decades unavailable on any national network. “Nowhere on television is ‘Three’s Company,’ ” Ancier said incredulously, adding that ’60s sci-fi classic “Lost in Space” isn’t in syndication either.

For now, Ancier isn’t disclosing what Zeus’s target shows are, but the venture has shared proposed programming schedules with prospective pay TV partners. Zeus is in talks with eight studios to license library content: CBS, Sony Pictures Television, 20th Century Fox, MGM, NBC, Walt Disney Co., Warner Bros. and Carsey Werner. Ancier said the company isn’t seeking exclusivity on any of the shows.

Zeus has “handshake deals” with several operators and Ancier said his affiliate lawyers are in the process of drafting contracts.

“It’s hard slogging because you’re asking for four channels” from an operator, Ancier said. “I’m going in there and basically begging, which is what you do in cable and satellite.”

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  1. QAM says:

    Brilliant idea! Antenna TV / MeTV are the closest networks we have to this amazing opportunity to bring back classic television to a new generation. It would be an honor to work for these networks.

  2. James Greek says:

    We already have reruns of Three’s Company

  3. rich says:

    Would also like to know if there are any confirmed carraige agreements from providers allready?

  4. It’s good to see someone of Mr. Ancier’s caliber working to bring classic television shows back to the medium where they were made for – television. And if he could convince Warner Bros. to bring their massive library of television shows when the diginets couldn’t, more power to him. Whatever springs up, I hope the programmers aren’t so dismissive of animated programming like everybody under the sun seem to be. Much luck.

  5. warren zeller says:

    As one of the original marketing guys at Encore, Hit movies from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s we experienced tremendous success after we launched in 1991. The company has evolved into Starz and their annual revenues are over $1billion. With that said, getting 4 channels will be next to impossible, unless you are willing to pay to get on a cable or satellite tier. And if the business model is going to be advertising based, all I can say is “good luck with that”.
    Warren

  6. rich says:

    The concept does work for SiriusXM, it does have potential to work for TV decade channels, My questions for Garth and his collegues are:

    1- Why not the 50’s?- there were classics from Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Car 54 and many more that can get a great following for those viewers that are enjoying now and for the 1st time on Antenna TV and Metv.

    2- Will a provider haveto take all 4 channels?- sounds like they do (which makes sense, but are they willing to provide the BW for 4 channels- will they be multi-plexed?

    3- What is the actual name of the channels?

    4- Is the plan to schedule the line ups based on themes or mixed between comedy, drama, thriller, etc..

    5- It would be great to see variety shows like the Carol Burnett show- but due to rights issues may not be- will these type of issues be cleared?

    6- Will there be a website up soon so viewers can keep track as to what providers have signed up for the channels to be launched?

  7. FrankM says:

    Good in idea, bad in execution. Here’s why:

    1) Cable channels have to get distribution. One unproven one is tough, four will be a hard sell.
    2) Good programming is expensive. If you have no money, you can only afford the low cost programming that will not bring you decent ratings. Program owners license to a high bidder or the programming stays in the vault until it gains some value. They are not going to cut a low-ball deal just because they like Ancier’s idea.
    3) Modeling channels after Sirius’s decades channel is a bad idea. The problem that I have with those channels is that you will never hear anything new. If the decade channels had deeper playlists, they might be worth a listen.

    This kind of programming would have a better success as a sub-channel of a broadcaster, I just wish they would step up. Fox is starting a sub-channel (“MOVIES!”) that will be nothing but edited movies from the fox catalog. It would be better if they mined their tv catalog instead.

    By being a sub-channel, it is easier to get cable carriage. By being one channel, there is less to program. By not being a decade-themed channel, you are not scraping the bottom of the barrel to fill the arbitrary by-the-decade blueprint, or sliding a show to a decade where it did not air the bulk of its episodes.

  8. MaryAnn says:

    I would really hope that they include some of the old western series that were still popular in the sixties. They were among my favorites growing up, and I would pretty much watch any you offered. Lancer, High Chapparal, Yancy Derringer, and Have Gun Will Travel top a list of at least two dozen of these old westerns that I would love to see again.

  9. Souvien says:

    Actually, MeTV does a great job of NOT cutting intro’s or the credits of it’s shows,,,have been hoping a long time for a TCM of classic TV to be established…4 decade specific networks would be amaizng (oh to see the ABC Movies of the Week on the 70’s channel!)

  10. Miffy says:

    Uh – apparently Garth hasn’t heard of ME-TV, Antenna TV, Retro TV, and Cozi TV. All four of these networks run programming from those eras. Three’s Company has been seen constantly on TV Land and Antenna TV. Lost in Space is currently on ME-TV.

    If he’s smart, he’ll run the shows uncut (unlike the above stations, of which TV Land is the worst offender), and they’ll place the commercials where they belong, instead of artificially creating extra breaks (again, TV Land is terrible about this).

    I’d love to see someone put the screws to TV Land and create a channel that really respects the classics.

    • Garth Ancier says:

      Hi, Garth Ancier here. Todd’s done a great piece on this venture, but much more work has been done – all of which couldn’t really fit in this article. (By the way, “Lost in Space” and “Three’s Company” are just examples – none of the studios know our various “ideal” schedules to preserve our ability to negotiate for the best shows).

      Yes, Project Zeus will go back to the network length masters, air those masters in HD (upconverting and restoring color from the best possible sources). The networks will work together as a group – cross-promoting each other and airing adjacently on your cable/satellite dial. There will be serious license fees spent to get the best shows, and to make those shows available on all of your devices (via “TV Everywhere” with the MVPDs)

      TVLand is a terrific channel. But, as a single channel focusing more and more on original programming, it’s becoming more difficult to rotate the schedule and repopularize series from 60+ years of fantastic television content that we have all enjoyed. The idea here is to take TVLand a step further – further curating the hundreds of series into four recognizable “buckets”, with matching produced interstitial content.

      I think the digital terrestrial networks (Me-TV, Cozi, Antenna, etc.) have really proven that a large audience exists for much of this content. But as “side signals” (.2 and .3 stations riding along with an HD signal) they are constrained to Standard Definition video quality – while the public is demanding HD on every device.

      Myself and my team are reading all of these comments and taking notes – we want great shows, and we want diversity. If a show is being seen on too many other channels, no matter how popular, we’ll mix up the schedules to bring “less seen” series to each channel – it will be a balance, and the audience will tell us how to manage that balance.

      But most of all, we all want to make this a fun experience for the ultimate customer – our viewers!

      Best,

      Garth Ancier

      • Garth, I love, LOVE, the idea!!! TV Land has became a also-ran over the years starting with edited shows and now it’s so-called original “programming.” I would implore you to give coverage to shows that have been stalled out on DVD: The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, My Three Sons, Barnaby Jones and so many others.

        I’m also pleased you’re going back to the unedited masters. It’s about time someone did this. Again, this was a turn-off with TV Land and other stations. I was privileged to see 6 1/2 seasons of The Beverly Hillbillies in syndication unedited (for some reason the station didn’t have all of S7 and never showed S8 or S9) and I can always tell where the show was cut. Personally, I refuse to watch any show that’s edited unless the original source material was lost and that’s all that is available.

        How about some one-hit wonders? Enos (spin-off from The Dukes of Hazzard), Flo (spin-off from Alice) Three’s A Crowd and The Ropers (both spin-offs from Three’s Company), Joanie Loves Chochi, Goodnight Beantown (starred Bill Bixby), After-Mash and probably a lot of others I could think of. It would also be nice to see the cult classic B.J. and the Bear and The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo.

        Thank you for what you’re doing!!!!

    • Walter says:

      How many of those are available on Dish/Direct TV? On my Dish Network, only TV Land. Just because networks exist doesn’t mean a large portion of the public can get them.

      • itswhatiam says:

        All four of those networks are free, over the air channels. All you need is a TV and an antenna if they’re in your area. In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, we have all four, and because of it, we don’t need cable.

  11. itswhatiam says:

    We get Three’s Company on two different local channels, one of which is dedicated to retro-programming.

  12. Makes sense says:

    Garth is a genius! I remember when he was the youngest network President at FOX then at WB.. he has great taste and put the best shows on the air. He knew talent! Now that Bruce is gone, Kevin Tsujihara should FIRE his BFF Mark Pedowitz at CW and bring in Garth Ancier to save that pathetic network.

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