×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Stations build up ‘beachfront’ property

Real estate boom under way in broadcast TV

The nation’s housing market may still be in a deep slump, but there’s a seemingly unrestrained real estate boom under way in broadcast TV.

Station owners and program distributors are finally getting serious about developing the potential of the digital multicast channels that so many broadcasters have been sitting on for years.

With the transition to digital broadcasting, most full-power TV stations have the bandwidth to offer as many as four to six digital multicast channels in addition to their mothership signals. It amounts to an extraordinary windfall of advertising-supported programming opportunities for ambitious station owners and entrepreneurs.

Atlanta-based Bounce TV is the latest startup to join the land rush. The channel, set to bow Sept. 26, aims to target African-Americans in the 25-54 demo with a mix of movies, TV reruns and college sports.

A number of fledgling outlets have taken a page from the old Nick at Nite playbook — acquiring inexpensive, vintage series and dressing them up with goofy interstitials that play well with TV fanatics.

In January, Tribune Broadcasting launched Antenna TV, while Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting kicked off the national rollout of its Me-TV service that has operated for several years as an offshoot of its WCIU-TV Chicago. Weigel has been a multicasting pioneer, partnering with MGM in 2008 to launch the movie-centric This TV digital channel.

Among the Big Four O&O groups, ABC has been the most active in developing original programming under the Live Well Network banner — a mix of lifestyle, entertainment, foodie and travelogue fare.

With all the production infrastructure and talent available through the net’s eight O&O stations, ABC execs felt a sense of urgency to harness their untapped resources.

“We kept saying to ourselves that it’s like we own beachfront property but we don’t even have a shack on it,” says Emily Barr, prexy and g.m. of ABC’s WLS-TV Chicago, who spearheaded the launch of Live Well in April 2009.

Although TV’s transition to all-digital broadcasting was completed in June 2009, many stations were slow to move ahead with subchannels because the local ad market was in such bad shape at that time, and because there wasn’t much to choose from for stations that didn’t want to invest in producing or even repurposing their own material.

Now, however, broadcasters have another incentive to fill up those digital slots. The FCC wants to auction off some of the digital spectrum allocated to broadcasters for wireless services, as it warns of a looming broadband service crunch. TV station owners will have a stronger case to make for holding on to every bit of their scarce resource if they’re carrying an array of outlets — especially those reaching underserved TV viewers like Bounce’s target aud.

Local broadcast stations “have an intense need for meaningful programming for their digital signals,” says Bounce TV prexy Ryan Glover, a former Turner Broadcasting exec. “Plus, there’s never been a television network targeting African-Americans available for free, over the air. We see that as the business opportunity.”

The business model for the nationally oriented services is essentially barter syndication writ large. Stations give up a portion of their advertising inventory in each hour (typically a 50-50 split) in exchange for the programming. The distrib packages those spots for national advertisers, while the affiliates handle local sales.

ABC specifically designed Live Well to be free of any Alphabet or Mouse House imprimatur in order to make it attractive to non-ABC affiliate stations. By year’s end, it’s projected to be carried on stations covering 45% of U.S. TV households and, most important, it is already turning a profit, Barr says. Bounce TV projects it will be available in more than 50% of the U.S. at launch.

The biggest challenge for the new services is marketing (of course) and securing carriage beyond over the air. So far, cable is spotty and the services are nonexistent on DirecTV and Dish.

In contrast to ABC’s approach, NBC’s focus has been on the hyperlocal sector with the region-specific channels it has rolled out on its O&Os during the past year (Nonstop New York, Nonstop Philadelphia, Nonstop California, etc.).

CBS is about to take a similar tack, starting later this month with the launch of a subchannel in New York that will draw content from WCBS-TV as well as the Eye’s Gotham radio outlets. Subchannels for KCBS-TV Los Angeles and other Eye O&Os in major markets will follow soon.

Fox has yet to publicly unveil plans for digital subchannels on any of its 27 outlets. But that is likely to change as its competitors get busier in the arena.

More TV

  • Charmed -- "Let This Mother Out"

    'Charmed' Showrunner Exits, Craig Shapiro & Elizabeth Kruger Board Series

    The CW’s reboot of “Charmed” is changing showrunners. Variety has learned that Carter Covington has stepped down as showrunner on the series, which has already been renewed for a second season. Husband and wife team Craig Shapiro and Elizabeth Kruger have been brought on to helm the series going forward. Shapiro and Kruger are currently [...]

  • Apple TV Plus Reese Witherspoon Jennifer

    What We Know About 'Amazing Stories' And Other Shows Coming to Apple TV+

    Viewers got a sneak peek of upcoming shows coming to Apple TV+, Apple’s newly unveiled streaming service, during the company’s live-streamed event in Cupertino, Calif., on Monday. The stars and creators of the most highly anticipated projects like Steven Spielberg’s “Amazing Stories” and “The Morning Show” from Reese Witherspoon appeared on stage to reveal more [...]

  • WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01

    Richard Gere Series 'MotherFatherSon' Sold to Multiple Territories

    BBC Studios, the British public broadcaster’s commercial arm, has announced a raft of territory sales for Richard Gere starrer “MotherFatherSon,” a drama series written by Tom Rob Smith, Emmy-nominated for “The Assassination of Gianni Versace.” The show will screen Tuesday at Series Mania, France, in the International Panorama section. Buyers for the eight-part thriller include [...]

  • TV News Roundup: Netflix Releases Trailer

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Releases Trailer for 'Special'

    In today’s roundup, Netflix releases a trailer for “Special,” and Wrestlemania’s main event will be a women’s match, a first in WWE history. FIRST LOOKS Netflix has released the trailer for its upcoming 15-minute comedy show “Special.” Ryan O’Connell stars in the semi-autobiographical series about life as a gay man with cerebral palsy. The series is [...]

  • Apple Event: Everything We Learned From

    Everything We Learned From Today's Apple Event

    After revealing new services in news, finance, and gaming, Apple CEO Tim Cook kept the biggest, most anticipated announcement until last. Cook, along with heads of worldwide video programming Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht, and a whole group of Apple’s creative talents, presented the company’s new Apple TV+ streaming service, which is slated to [...]

  • Lauren Whitney

    Miramax President of TV Lauren Whitney Exits to Join Spyglass Media Group

    Lauren Whitney, the president of television for Miramax, is leaving the company, Variety has learned. She will now become the president of television for Spyglass Media Group effective April 1. The news comes less than two years after Whitney first joined Miramax. There, she oversaw the studio’s television development, in addition to “Spy City,” produced by [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content