×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Wily Indies Succeed on Digital Channels Where Majors Struggle

It’s the TV equivalent of undeveloped beachfront property, but so far only a handful of ritzy hotels have sprung up.

The recent decision by the ABC owned stations group to pull the plug on its Live Well Network in January shows how little progress has been made by the industry’s largest station groups on developing digital multicast channels.

With the transition to all-digital broadcasting, full-power stations can beam out as many as four digital channels in addition to the mothership signal.

Despite the wealth of programming resources at the major media congloms, the most successful digital multicast efforts to date have come from independent outfits. The Big Four O&O groups have experimented, in varying degrees, with different options but nothing has taken off in a big way.

The business model for digital multicast is in flux but it’s clear there’s a syndication-esque market for 24/7 program slates packaged into niche advertising-supported channels that are offered to other stations on a market-by-market basis.

CBS has yet to go public with a multicast plan. NBC has tried several efforts, most recently a channel dubbed Cozi TV devoted to vintage TV shows and movies. Fox last year partnered with Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting to launch the Movies! service, a channel tailored for classic film buffs.

ABC was able to get the distribution of the Live Well lifestyle channel up to 64% of U.S. TV households. Most of Live Well’s programs were produced inhouse at ABC’s eight O&Os, which meant they could keep Live Well’s operating costs low.

Industry insiders figure that the major groups are so preoccupied with the pace of change at the local and national level that they don’t have the time to innovate in the multicast sandbox. In other words, it’s hard enough to program the primary channel, let alone worry about drawing a crowd to three or four startup outlets. And the moneymaking potential of multicast channels is still limited by a number of factors, which also doesn’t provide a lot of incentive for larger companies to invest in the space.

That has opened the door to entrepreneurs like the founders of Bounce TV, which targets African-American viewers in the 25-54 age range. Bounce has grown over the past three years to reach 72% of U.S. TV households (and 89% of African-American homes).

Weigel Broadcasting’s vintage channel MeTV has been one of the most prominent digital success stories. The service is lovingly programmed for TV buffs with indelible shows that don’t require much marketing to draw a reliable breed of couch potato: “I Love Lucy,” “MASH,” “Cheers,” “Gilligan’s Island” et al. MeTV, which went national in 2010, reaches 91% of TV households across 161 affiliate partners.

Weigel keeps seven minutes of advertising time per hour, while affils get five minutes. MeTV is broadly carried on local cable systems, but it doesn’t receive direct carriage fees, which means profits are dependent on ad sales. Fortunately, ratings have been growing.

Weigel’s success with MeTV convinced Fox to give the company the keys to its film vault to launch “Movies!” which also licenses titles from Paramount and Sony Pictures. (In 2008, Weigel launched a movie channel, This TV, with MGM which has since been taken over by Tribune Broadcasting.)

The track record of digital multicast outlets to date proves that these channels need care and feeding just like any other outlet. Weigel invested “tens of millions of dollars” in licensing just the right mix of oldies but goodies, says vice chairman Neal Sabin.

“MeTV has compelling brands. We have (the TV equivalents of) Coke, McDonald’s, Apple,” he says. “We knew we weren’t ever going to succeed unless we had a significant number of the best programs ever produced for TV.”

More TV

  • Daily Show Viacom

    DirecTV, Viacom Avert Blackout After Marathon Negotiation

    DirecTV and Viacom have agreed on a carriage renewal pact covering a raft of Viacom’s cable channels after a marathon negotiation over the weekend. In a joint statement early Monday, the companies said: “We are pleased to announce a renewed Viacom-AT&T contract that includes continued carriage of Viacom services across multiple AT&T platforms and products. [...]

  • Osmosis

    Netflix Feeds Fantasy-Hungry YAs in France

    LILLE, France —  The series the audience was about to see on Sunday night at Lille’s central UGC Cine-Cité multiplex wasn’t even playing in Series Mania’s main International Competition. But in many ways, Netflix’s” “Osmosis” was certainly among the most-anticipated of shows at this year’s festival. The excitement before the screening was palpable, and pointed [...]

  • Series Mania: Q & A with

    Series Mania: ‘Hierro’ as ‘Southern Noir’ and an Industry Groundbreaker

    LILLE, France —  Banijay Rights-sold “Hierro” begins with sea, land, air and fire: Shots of the stunning volcanic isle of El Hierro, the most westerly point of Spain’s Canary Islands, with its black basalt rock, brown iron-rich gravel, white waves pummeling the coast, trees trunks twisted by wind and lava, a juniper bent double by [...]

  • Shekhar Kapur to Direct 'Ibis' Trilogy

    Shekhar Kapur to Direct 'Ibis' Trilogy for Endemol Shine (EXCLUSIVE)

    Acclaimed Indian director Shekhar Kapur is to direct a TV series for Endemol Shine based on historical novels by Amitav Ghosh, known as the “Ibis Trilogy.” The deal was announced at Series Mania in Lille. The books “Sea of Poppies,” “River of Smoke,” and “Flood of Fire,” are set in mid-19th century Asia. They interweave [...]

  • ‘Lambs Of God’ To World Premiere

    Lingo Pictures, Endemol Shine’s ‘Lambs of God’ Set for Series Mania World Premiere

    LILLE, France — Lingo Pictures Productions and Endemol Shine’s new Australian limited series “Lambs of God,” based on the Australian novel of the same name by Marele Day, world premieres on Wednesday, March 27 in the main International Competition at this year’s Series Mania festival. The series follows three devout nuns, the last sisters of [...]

  • Bruno DEBRANDT (Florent) et Julie GAYET

    Federation Acquires Intl. Sales Rights on Series Mania French Competition Player ‘Torn’

    LILLE, France — Leading French independent production-finance-distribution sales company Federation Entertainment has secured international sales rights on upcoming French psychological thriller “Torn.” The series was created and written by director Lionel Bailliu (“Innocente”)and Yann Le Gal (“Léo Mattéï, Brigade des Mineurs”) and world premieres in the official French competition on March 25 at France’s Series [...]

  • About Premium Content Expands Scope, Rebrands

    About Premium Content Expands Scope, Rebrands as APC Studios (EXCLUSIVE)

    As it celebrates its fifth anniversary, the rising Paris-based TV production and distribution company About Premium Content is rebranding as APC Studios to reflect the expanded scope of its activities. APC Studios, which launched as a sales company in 2014, is now a producer, financier and distributor of upscale projects ranging from scripted to factual [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content