Digi-Net Space Gets More CoziWith 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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