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.”