The new offering from MGM and Weigel Broadcasting is lining up affiliates with a schedule of movies from the MGM vaults and vintage TV shows as well as a 50-50 inventory split and cable carriage. Keys to its success so far, says MGM’s John Bryan, is greater market coverage than cable networks as well as its philosophy of listening to feedback from its affiliates.
As the 2007 NATPE conference was winding down, MGM’s John Bryan and Weigel Broadcasting’s Neal Sabin got together over coffee to figure out what they could do to take advantage of TV stations’ ability to broadcast multiple stations over their digital channels.
What they came up with is This TV, a digital network laden with films from MGM’s extensive library. It débuted in November 2008 and now reaches more than 50 percent of U.S. TV households through a steadily growing affiliate lineup.
The network is a partnership of MGM and Weigel, with Bryan handling sales and administrative duties and Sabin scheduling the programming.
Bryan has been able to sign up top stations of prominent stations groups, including Hearst, Tribune, Post-Newsweek and Sinclair, with a simple deal. The network and affiliate split the ad inventory (8-12 minutes per hour) straight down the middle. The affiliate commits for two or three years and gets cable carriage, but retains the freedom to preempt the network for local programming.
In this interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Harry A. Jessell, Bryan says the network been able to get off to a good start by pursuing affiliates, listening to affiliate feedback and making sure the network always has a lively and timely mix of movies and vintage TV shows.
An edited transcript:
You seem to have gotten some good traction in the marketplace since last November.
We have, but I think we can get better. I think we’re learning every day what works and doesn’t work. I’ve been doing this 26 years and this is the most fun I’ve had.
Well, it’s got to be livelier than the syndication marketplace.
Exactly. You feel good because when I meet with the Hearsts and the Sinclairs of the world, we can talk about generating revenue. It’s going up, not down. So that makes it kind of fun. Everybody is having a good time with it, on the local level especially. In these hard times, we’re giving sales people other places to go to keep generating revenue.
Let’s talk about your affiliate lineup. You say you have between 50 and 60 percent coverage as of today. What’s the outlook for getting the other 40 or 50 percent?
We’re in negotiations right now and it’s safe to say in the fall we’ll be well over 80 percent.
What about New York? What’s your play in New York?
We’re in the middle of negotiations right now so I’d rather not comment on that.
But is something imminent there?
No comment. But what’s interesting is we’ll have over 80 percent of the country without New York. We’re in several discussions about New York.
How do you go about selling this network without ratings?
Nielsen is working with the diginets to come up with something at a local level, but, if you look at our people meter markets, we are getting some numbers coming across. On certain days, we’re beating a lot of established programs. The other day, in Milwaukee, from sign on to sign off, we actually tied the CW station. National numbers, we’re still working on.
Is it all direct response or are you airing some regular spots?
Right now, it’s all DR.
When you’re not showing movies, you tend to show sitcoms from the 1950s and ’60s — Sea Hunt, Patty Duke, Bat Masterson, Mr. Ed. What does that tell me about the kind of audience you’re chasing?
It goes back to the marketing of This TV — This is horror, This is comedy, This is the western. Neil may schedule Bat Masterson as part of a Western stunt. See what I mean? So basically, the older series are really done late night or as part of the stunt around the movies. Our local affiliates are really having a lot of success selling these stunts.
Just to give you an example: The other day when David Carradine passed away, we were able to turn on a dime and put The Long Riders on for our affiliates. So we really are proactive when it comes to things like that.
But are you chasing an older demographic with this network?
We’re chasing a movie demographic.
Is that an older demographic?
It’s older in the makeup of some of the movies. Being a movie type network, it really depends on what titles you put on.
Are you going outside the MGM library for films?
We can. We haven’t yet, but we can.
Are you happy about the way affiliates are promoting and selling the network for you?
We’re very happy. In Tampa, at WMOR, when they first went on, they went out and actually got the network sponsored right off the bat from a bunch of the car dealerships. It’s just about how aggressive your sales force wants to be in these markets. So the majority are running with it
Are your affiliates able to get cable carriage for the network?
We have very good cable coverage. Part of that is because we listened to what the stations were telling us. We have no long-form infomercials on this. And one of the reasons we don’t is because the affiliates were telling us that the cable systems didn’t want them. We actually listened.
Now, I’ll throw one thing out there that’s very interesting about our network as opposed to others. We do have cable coverage and it’s important for us to get it, but, unlike cable networks, we’re also over the air. So, in certain markets, where 30 or 40 percent of the market’s still only over the air, we’re one of the few channels that everybody is going to be able to pick up. That’s what makes us intriguing for the DR business. We are not limited to cable.
Well let’s talk about some of your digital broadcast competition. You have The Local AccuWeather Channel, Live Well HD, LATV, .2, Mexicanal, Retro TV. Which of those do you see as real players out there? Who are you bumping into in your hunt for affiliates?
I think the ethnic channels — the Hispanic channels — are very interesting. They are not necessarily in direct competition with me, but they make a lot of sense. Right now, as far as me being a general entertainment type network, I’m really not butting heads with anybody. I’m really not. I’m not trying to be cocky, but if you just look at our station lineup, you’ll see we’re with the Sunbeams, the Hearsts, the Sinclairs. We’ve been very fortunate to get some good cable positions, too. So I don’t feel like I’m banging heads.
I do feel like there’s room for more. I just think this is the tip of the iceberg. But right now we’re really not focused on being competitive against somebody. We’re just focused on making the best network we can.
So you expect other digital networks to emerge?
Yes, I do. Definitely.
Aren’t we going to hit a saturation point soon? Each station only has room for a couple of digital networks and many of them may opt for mobile service instead.
I understand, but not every station has selected their two channels yet.
I guess the way you’ve sort of defined the market, Hispanic and general entertainment, your real competitors are Retro TV and .2. Are those guys going to make it?
I really can’t speak to that. .2 hasn’t launched yet and they’ve postponed it four or five times and Retro has a different business model than ours. I would rather not comment on whether my competition is going to make it or not make it. We’re just focused on what we’re doing.
Movies are better in HD. Is there any talk about going HD?
I don’t think you can because of the bandwidth.
Well the ABC O&Os just put on a digital channel, Live Well, that is high def.
Yeah, but it’s difficult to do HD because you’re going to take away from the main station. It’s not easy to do.