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As digital broadcasting matures, an old-school idea has resurfaced to help people find out what’s on the expanding roster of subchannels local stations are making available.
In a handful of markets, overthe- air viewers can find TV Scout, which offers a retro-looking scrolling list of digital channels and what’s airing on them.
This back-to-the-future picture comes from an Austin-based company called Broadcast Television Group, run by CEO Josh Castro.
“The idea is that very rapidly, since 2009, terrestrial broadcasting is looking more and more like cable did in the late ’70s, to the extent that we need a place for viewers to see what’s coming up,” says Castro.
TV Scout looks familiar to anyone who had cable TV back in the day when operators would carry services such as the TV Guide Channel. Before more cable program guides became interactive, you watched the scroll to get channel numbers and the names of programs on cable networks.
Ironically, TV Guide Channel has been trying to get out of the scrolling guide business for years. Now half-owned by archetypical broadcaster CBS Corp. and called TVGN, the channel is transitioning into an entertainment destination and no longer wants the distracting scroll. A TVGN representative says 30% of households were scroll-free as early as 2010. There’s currently no scroll in 85% of homes, and the network is hoping to get to 90% by the end of the year.
WHY THIS MATTERSTo build viewership of their digital subchannels, broadcasters need to guide viewers to the programs they air there.
While cable is getting away from the scroll, its time is ripe for broadcasters, says Castro, for whom TV is a family business. His grandfather, country singer Chester Smith, and his grandmother started Sainte Partners, which owned a string of stations in California and Oregon. He grew up running around news sets.
Castro took his TV Scout idea to the National Association of Broadcasters’ convention in 2012. “We had an overwhelmingly positive response from the broadcast stations,” he says. But he also discovered that the equipment needed to execute the channel wasn’t available off the shelf. Broadcast Television hired engineers to create the technology — a patent has been applied for — and to build the boxes. Broadcast Television also does the timeconsuming work of contacting all the stations in a market to get their program listings, updating them when last-minute changes occur.
Given that digital subchannels currently generate little revenue — especially if you’re dealing with low-power stations — Castro had to give broadcasters a good deal. “For an affiliate to carry TV Scout, it doesn’t cost them a dollar. Hey, you don’t have to buy any equipment. We maintain it and buy it,” he says. In fact, the box that generates TV Scout can also handle a station’s Emergency Alert System’s requirements. TV Scout makes money by selling ads and gives the local station a share.
“It’s definitely a needed service,” says Michael Kokernak, president of digital media consultancy Across Platforms. Kokernak questions whether ad revenue will be enough to support TV Scout’s hardware costs and allow it to compile useful listings.
The Logs Roll On
KAXT-CD in the San Francisco market buys program listings from Tribune Media Services and has run scrolling listings on the bottom part of the screen on channel 1.1 since 2010, according to owner Warren Trumbly. Trumbly doesn’t get ratings data for the channel, but he says it’s been wellreceived and he breaks even running it.
TV Scout, which raised $130,000 in seed money and is looking for equity investors, did a soft launch in July with KVHF in Fresno, Calif., and KCTU in Wichita, Kan. It added WLFT Baton Rouge (La.) on Oct. 1.
This month, it is launching on several more stations, including KHDT Denver, WWJT Philadelphia, KFLA Los Angeles, KPDR Salt Lake City, WBNA Louisville (Ky.), WJDE Nashville (Tenn.) and KMCT Monroe (La.).
Gary Cocola, CEO of Cocola Broadcasting Co., which own KVHF in Fresno, says he views running TV Scout as a way of giving back to the community. In Fresno, stations air 60 streams of over-the-air digital programming, a number that will be increasing to 84 later this year. “I get three, four, five calls a week wanting to know where to find a schedule. The newspapers don’t print all the subchannels,” Cocola says. He says the price is right and his stations gets constant updates to the programming lineup from TV Scout. “We don’t even have to touch it.”
TV Scout runs on channel 4.3 in the market, making it the first thing viewers see when they turn on digital broadcasting. Cocola says he thinks the channel would be terrific for promoting local news broadcasts and adds he would also be willing to promote TV Scout on his other subchannels.
“I think there’s definitely a give-back to the viewers, and it helps everybody,” he says.