Digi-Net Space Gets More Cozi With Movies! Premiere

NBC, Fox owned station groups seek piece of growing multicast pie

The entertainment-themeed multicast space, offering a colorful
array of oldies TV programs and hit
(and miss) films on the likes of Me-TV, This TV
and Antenna TV, has been ultra-competitive
for years. And it’s bound to get that much
more challenging with two network-owned
station groups entering the digi-net arena.

Offering a vast distribution network and rich
resources to acquire programming, NBC Owned
Stations’ Cozi TV and Fox Television Stations
creation Movies! aim to give the established
multicast players a run for their money.

“All the stations are on board for the first
time for us,” said Frank Cicha, senior VP
of programming at Fox Television Stations
(FTS), which is launching Movies! in 17 markets
this spring. “Our footprint should be a
significant one to spur [direct response] revenue.
We’re pumped.”

The subchannel landscape increasingly resembles
the early days of cable. There are now
about 138 different digi-nets, including Spanish
language (Estrella TV), religious (Son Life) and
music-themed (The Country Network), according
to Michael Kokernak, president of digital
media consultancy Across Platforms and publisher of Subchannel Report
newsletter. Fox last August debuted MundoFox, a Hispanic-targeted rival
to Estrella; Fox also features Bounce TV on some of its subchannels.

Subchannel revenue is, for successful operators, no longer an afterthought.
Neal Sabin, president of content and networks at Weigel
Broadcasting, said a Me-TV affiliate in a midsize market can do more
than $1 million in annual revenue. David Barrett, chairman/CEO of
Hearst Television, recently told B&C that multicasting had become a
“very significant” business for the group. “It’s now, in aggregate, the size
of a small-to-middle-market television station,” Barrett said.

Kokernak considers Me-TV, Weigel’s “Memorable Entertainment” net,
the blueprint. “Weigel and Neal Sabin really take the prize,” Kokernak
said. “But they’ll be looking over their shoulder.”

Me-TV, showing the likes of M*A*S*H and Perry Mason, takes a significant step when it begins getting national Nielsen ratings April 1.
Me-TV currently reaches 85% of the U.S. “We did that with no station
group to start, other than our own,” said Sabin.

For Movies!, Fox sought to tap some of the Me-TV magic, including
its lively promotional bits. FTS and Weigel are partners on the
venture, which will feature films not cut for
length (though they will be edited for inappropriate
material) airing in 16 X 9 format.
Negotiations with film studios are ongoing,
though none were finalized at presstime.
Cicha refers to the fledgling channel as “the
Me-TV of movies.”

Already out of the gate is Cozi TV, which debuted
Jan. 1, in place of the NBC Owned Stations’
Nonstop channels. NBC uses terms like
“easy to watch” and “comfortable” to describe
the programming, livening up the likes of The
Six Million Dollar Man
with a rich social media
presence and a “Superfan” promotional campaign
that debuts this week. “We wanted to
make sure it was not just a channel with linear
programming,” Meredith McGinn, VP of multistation
local programming at the NBC Owned
group, said of Cozi TV. “We wanted to create
an experience for viewers.”

At presstime, 25 stations outside the NBC
group, including KSNV Las Vegas, air Cozi.
McGinn calls it an economical duopoly. “It’s
a sister channel to promote to, extend sales
deals with and to use for additional programming,”
she said. Cozi has debuted original reality
programs Being Mandela and Next Great Family Band.

Kokernak believes it’s a solid strategy. “I think they’ll all morph into
original content,” he said of the digi-nets. “That’s where the money is.”

Elsewhere in the network-owned universe, ABC has its thriving Live
Well Network, while Kokernak calls CBS Television Stations the “wildcard”
in the multicasting equation.

By Across Platforms’ count, Me-TV reaches a potential 221 million
people over 18 in its TV homes, tops among the vintage-fare digi-nets.
This TV is at 205 million and Antenna TV is at 147 million. According
to Across Platforms, Movies! will premiere to a potential 93.5 million
adults, while Cozi currently is at 74 million.

Cicha said FTS has loads to do before the targeted Memorial Day
launch, primarily gearing up the stations for multicasting and acquiring films. He describes Movies! as a “long-term business” for the Fox
station group. “We’re starting to see some of these channels take away
ad money at the local level,” he said. “It’s time to start getting a piece.”

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