MGM takes digital leap

Ad-supported net to air catalog titles

MGM is making a play for a hunk of the unused digital real estate controlled by local TV stations.

The Lion is launching a digital programming service dubbed This TV, a 24-hour, ad-supported channel filled primarily with pics from MGM’s vast archive of 4,100 titles. MGM aims to capitalize on the federal mandate that broadcasters face to transition to all-digital telecasting by Feb. 17.

The majority of U.S. TV stations already have flipped the digital switch, but the pending deadline will increase pressure on broadcasters to make better use of the extra channel space they now have through their fatter digital pipelines.

MGM has partnered with Weigel Broadcasting for the launch of This TV, which is tentatively skedded for Nov. 1. Weigel, a small owner of indie stations in Chicago, Milwaukee and South Bend, Ind., had some success in Chi with multicasting themed digital channel offshoots of its anchor WCIU-TV station.

Weigel exec veep Neal Sabin will program the This TV lineup and work with MGM’s affiliates on marketing the venture. Jim Packer, MGM TV co-prexy, and exec veepee broadcast strategy John Bryan are spearheading the initiative for the Lion.

This TV is being offered to stations for a syndication-style 50-50 split of advertising time on the channel and a three-year commitment. Stations will also have the option of cherry-picking movies from the This TV lineup to run on their main outlets, Bryan said. MGM aims to profit by selling its hunk of the ad inventory to national advertisers, just as syndie distribs do with barter ad time in their shows.

MGM has also pacted with kidvid company Cookie Jar Entertainment to provide a slate of children’s programming for the channel, to allow stations to fulfill the FCC’s requirement that broadcasters offer three hours a week of educational kidvid.

MGM execs have been pitching This TV to station group owners and advertisers in recent weeks, but as of Monday there were no deals in place with stations beyond the three Weigel outlets.

“The problem (stations) have been having on the digital front is that they haven’t been able to monetize it,” Bryan said. “And they’ve all told us that they want something that is turn-key — something where we get to program it and they get to sell it.”

MGM may opt to sked some of the vintage TV titles in its 10,000 hours of TV programming in its library on This TV. Contempo TV fare would be cost-prohibitive for the startup because of the residual fees that would be owed to creative talent at top-tier broadcast rates.

Moreover, the idea of This TV being a dedicated movie channel has resonated strongly with station owners and advertisers, Bryan added.

“Everybody’s comfortable with movies,” Bryan said. “They know what they are and they know we can brand them” into themed nights and special presentations of classics in the Lion’s vault, he said.

However, the caliber of titles that MGM will serve up on This TV remains to be seen. Among the pics bound for the channel are 1981’s “Carbon Copy,” starring a young Denzel Washington, and John Travolta-Brian De Palma 1981 thriller “Blow Out.”

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