After starting in broadcast, then moving to cable, Jonathan Katz now is showing the way in TV’s burgeoning multicast space.
Having helped successfully launch Bounce TV, the first over-the-air network aimed at African-American viewers, Katz is getting set to debut two more targeted networks on affiliates’ digital sub-channels. One, Grit, targets men; the other, Escape, is aimed at women.
“He deserves to be looked at as an innovator,” says Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. Many saw opportunities in digital broadcasting but Katz had the experience and insights to build a business and make it pay. “He was ahead of the curve,” Werner says.
Katz is a television lifer, who compares his upbringing to Jerry on Seinfeld being raised in the Deep South. His mom from Chicago and his Bostonian father both wound up as professors at the University of Alabama. His dad started teaching about a newfangled technology called television in the 1950s. Seinfeld producer and director Tom Cherones, John Cochran of NBC News and Rece Davis of ESPN are among those who took his production class.
“So I grew up wearing a stopwatch around my neck at seven, eight, nine years old, holding cue cards for productions and being steeped in the industry at a very young age,” Katz says.
On top of that, his next-door neighbor was an anchor at the local CBS affiliate. When Katz got his driver’s license at 16, she offered him a job and he shot spot news and learned to edit. He worked his way up to producer, then began the broadcaster’s life, moving from station to station, producing promos in Tampa, running production in Charlotte, returning to Tampa to head programming and marketing.
He plugged into cable when he became VP of marketing for Newsource, CNN’s affiliate news service, and joined Turner Entertainment Group in 2000 where eventually he was put in charge of acquiring programming.
“Jonathan was a student of television,” says Brad Siegel, who was Katz’s boss at Turner and is now vice chairman at Up TV. “He was really smart and very creative with a good business head. Not only was he making deals, but he really thought like a programmer.” He was so good that Siegel tried to hire him to head programming at Up.
Turner wanted all programming discussions funneled through Katz, which made him a powerful player, but rankled some studio sales executives. Nevertheless, the relationships he formed were helpful when he left Turner and struck out on his own.
“Jonathan is very smart and a very creative dealmaker. He is a tough but fair negotiator— a rare combination today,” says Frances Manfredi, president at NBCUniversal Television and New Media Distribution, which has licensed films to both Bounce TV and the new Grit and Escape networks. “He’s probably gotten scrappier as any new business launch would require but he is as formidable a counterpart as ever,” she says.
In addition to acquiring programming for Turner’s cable networks, Katz was put in charge of Ted Turner’s original TV station, WTBS, in Atlanta, which became Peachtree TV. At the time, the station was going through the transition to digital broadcast, which enabled stations to transmit multiple programming streams. Stations are still trying to figure out what to do with those new multicast channels.
Whole New World
“There was this new broadcast network ecosystem emerging,” Katz says. Viewers who didn’t subscribe to cable or satellite had very limited programming options. “For them the TV universe is a combination of what we’ll call major and emerging broadcast networks. It’s very much a parallel to the early days of cable. So once this new real estate was established, it made sense that folks should come in and build networks specifically for those consumers.”
Research showed that African-Americans were an underserved audience. Many did not subscribe to pay TV so they couldn’t watch BET or TV One. Yet they were inclined to make the effort to search out programming with characters and situations they could identify with. That led to the creation of Bounce TV.
At WTBS, Katz had worked with Ryan Glover to produce low-cost original programming for African-Americans. Now Glover is president of Bounce TV, which launched in 2012; Katz is COO.
“What makes him a great friend, partner and operator is his passion and dedication not only to our business but to our employees as well. That positive energy is transferred through the team and resonates through everything we do,” Glover says.
The African-American programming Katz helped air at Peachtree was noticed by Pat LaPlatney, senior VP of Raycom. Raycom stations cover 13% of the U.S. and 20% of African- American households, so LaPlatney met Katz in Atlanta to see if the shows could run on Raycom stations. After Katz left Turner, he showed LaPlatney the Bounce TV presentation at NATPE.
“Jonathan’s a great presenter and I remember calling our CEO Paul McTear after that meeting saying, ‘You need to see this.’ Within a few months, we’d agreed to be a launch group for them,” he says. “With Ryan Glover he put together a great organization. They got this thing launched in about six months and they’ve executed extremely well every step of the way and they have a very good business now.”
Katz also managed to talk the studios into doing business with his fledging channel.
“When we did the deal with Bounce it was about the quality of their business plan and the fact that they were willing to step up and pay a competitive license fee,” says Werner of Warner Bros., which did not do business with some other outfits in the digital multicast space.
Bounce TV is private, says Katz, who would divulge little more about its finances. “Bounce has been an unprecedented success by virtually every metric, ratings, revenue, distribution,” he says.
Bounce’s business partners are also doing well. “We as an affiliate group do a pretty good job of selling the inventory on Bounce and so we’re an equity partner and happy to be an equity partner,” says LaPlatney. “They’re a profitable company and given that they’re still almost in startup phase, I think they’re doing remarkably well.”
Paving the Way
The success of Bounce helped pave the way for Grit and Escape, which are being launched by Katz Broadcasting, which Katz formed last April. He declined to say where the money for the new company is coming from or how much it will spend on the launch. “They’re two standalone companies. We share some investors, management and physical offices. I’m COO of Bounce and split my time between the networks.”
Bounce’s Glover is confident Katz will be able to manage his time between the two networks. “I wouldn’t worry too much about him. As far as I can tell, he never sleeps,” Glover says.
With the new networks, Katz is again following cable’s example. Just as there was no BET in the emerging multicast universe before Bounce, there isn’t a Lifetime for women or a History for men.
“Both our station partners and advertisers see the value in demo-specific networks,” he says.
Even though ABC has folded its ambitious Live Well multicast network, Katz thinks the business will become significant. “It’s far sexier to talk about the growth of over-thetop, but over-the-air broadcasting is thriving as well. And we think there’s a symbiotic relationship between over-the-air and overthe- top,” Katz says. “I think this is a growing, thriving business.”
And are there other demo groups Katz thinks might support their one network? “You never know,” he replies.