EXECUTIVE SESSION WITH JOE COMPARATO

Cool TV Diginet Hits Right Local Note

The music-oriented network hopes to stand out against the competition and become stations' multicast choice by offering eclectic -- and proprietary -- music video programming. Plus, it has the ability to customize material to each market as well as include local acts through a combination of on-demand material that it shoots in each market and user-generated videos.

Today, TV stations interested in multicasting have a bunch of networks from which to choose, offering everything from Spanish-language programming to popular movies.

Is there room for yet another? The Cool Music Network thinks so.

The two-and-a-year-old company is seeking affiliates for The Cool TV, an eclectic music video service cutting across genres like the Jack FM radio format.

And it has already gained some traction in its effort. Journal Broadcast Group is running the network on three stations and plans to add it to its remaining stations soon.

Sinclair Broadcast Group has also cut a deal to roll it out on 34 stations starting June 1.

In this interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Harry A. Jessell, Cool Music Network CEO Joe Comparato explains how The Cool TV hopes to succeed by leveraging the company’s “on-location, on-demand” business of selling recordings of concerts to fans as they leave  concert venues. That business not only gives the network proprietary content, but a local presence — a key to its broadcast-centric business plan.

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An edited transcript:

How much of the country do you expect to clear and how long is it going to take you to get there?

There are 115 million or so TV homes in this country and our plan says within three years we’re going to try to get to 90 million of them. We’re going to try to cover as much of this country as quickly as we can.

What is the basic business proposition to the broadcaster?

We have a turnkey solution that allows broadcasters to monetize their multicast bandwidth. There is a negotiated rate and a percentage of the national ad revenue as well. We recognize there’s a certain amount of expense in putting the signal on the air so there’s a base rate and there’s an upside for them when we do well. That gives them incentive to help us do well through cross promotion and other things.

So, they immediately start getting revenue?

That’s correct, yes.

How much ad time is there and how much of the time can the broadcasters sell locally?

Well, unlike most cable networks that are anywhere from 13 to 14 minutes an hour, we only have a 12-minute ad block. Eight of that is blocked national time. Another four minutes is available for local if the broadcasters are interested in selling it.

What’s the basic programming schedule look like?

It varies from market to market. When you look at the clock, what we call core artists, core music styles, play through most of the prime viewing time. Most of the day is just video rotation. We keep a nice balance among all of our categories of music, not just genre based, but even era based. We have a whole category of gold videos that are split up — ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s. But the programming is specialized to the market.

What do you mean by “specialized to the market?”

This is really the differentiator between Cool TV and other music channels. We’re not satellite. Each broadcast program you hear is tweaked to the market. For instance, if it’s a country market, you’re going to see more country through more of the prime parts of the day. If it’s more rock, it’s more rock. If it’s more urban, it’s more urban.            

Can you also bring in local programming, local acts?

We can. We actually have a pilot in works right now for a local music show. We’re going to use a combination of on-demand proprietary stuff that we’re in the market shooting as well as user-generated videos from the market.

How do you manage to customize the network for each market?

Every station gets a server and each server in the chain is a backup for the next. Each has our video library and we update and control it over the Internet from our broadcast center in Lawrence, Kan. We’re able to monitor each of our stations 24/7 in our broadcast facility here.

But still, the basic programming is a mix of different genres. Isn’t that going against the grain? I thought it was all about niche programming.

It’s great. We love it and so do our fans. One of the biggest comments we get back is, “I love your channel because I never know what I’m going to see next.”

We really do have a system to how we mix the genres. When you go from genre to genre, you know the song. It’s a hit. That’s one of the things that’s really cool about it. It does go against the grain, but that’s what we’re all about. We break the mold when it comes to this and we really have no rules. This is about the music and the fans.

What kind of push back are you getting from the broadcasters?

Well, you get all the normal stuff. The major network affiliates especially are always concerned about longevity, always concerned about distracting their team with another channel and making sure that it operates correctly under the guidelines of broadcast television. We have had to do a lot to educate ourselves on broadcast television. E/I programming is one very good example. That’s something we have to address at the network level.

So, do you have three hours of kids’ educational and informational programming every week?

Yes, we do. We run it every Saturday from 7 to 10 in the morning.

Is it musically oriented?

Some of it is. You might be familiar with Teen Kids News, which is a popular older demo E/I.

That’s Al Primo’s show, isn’t it?

That’s correct. And we we’re also planning to produce some of our own musical orientated E/I content. We’re working with educators to come up with a curriculum. We hope very soon to start producing and integrating a lot of the artists into that in a way that we think will be very dynamic and a lot of fun.

You’re sort of a newcomer to the business. How do broadcasters know you have the staying power?

We have to go through our diligence of showing that we’re prepared for the long haul and we are. The biggest thing that gives broadcasters peace of mind is we have great relationships with our content providers. Our content is not going anywhere. That has been a question that’s been asked several times in meetings because I think that’s an issue that other networks may have, ones that rely on syndicated programming. If your syndication deal runs out and you can’t get your licenses renewed, all of a sudden you don’t have the same programming. So it is an advantage that we have.    

According to BIA, there are 1,400 multicast channels now on the air. Isn’t this space reaching a saturation point?

I am aware of several networks that are doing well and several others that have started and haven’t been able to get clearance anywhere. We see ourselves always running up against ThisTV, although there are markets where we’re both going to be on different multicast channels with the same broadcaster.

There are a lot of these ventures right now. To me, it’s exciting. That’s what I thought the digital TV transition was all about: getting a lot more programming on the air that’s free to people who just have rabbit ears.

Why broadcast? Why not cable? Why not take this to cable where you have a prospect, if not initially, but eventually, of getting programming fees?

If you designed this network before multicasting or digital TV was even a thought in your head, the first thing you would say after you looked at the plan on paper was, man, wouldn’t it be great if there were a way we could figure out how to do this with local broadcasting stations because they really are the key to our localism success. Having a broadcaster in the market gives us the ability to do what we do city by city, feed by feed, server by server. It really does give us that chance to make Saint Louis’ music channel, Milwaukee’s music channel, Tucson’s music channel.

Why is this going to succeed when The Tube, an earlier multicast channel based on music videos, failed?

The Tube tried to be non-advertiser supported at first which was a big Achilles’ heel, and there were other reasons. Some were artistic. Some more centered on receiving revenue and other sources that just didn’t pan out. I really feel like it just presented itself as a same old rock music video channel. The programming was very focused and very tight around a series of specific genres. It was a single satellite feed, which meant the entire country watched the same feed no matter what time it was.

We’re really about being a multimedia music company for connecting bands to the fans, as we like to say, and this channel happens to be a great way to make that happen. It also has the ability to generate a lot of revenue in ad sales to support itself.


Comments (2)

Leave a Reply

mike tomasino says:

May 12, 2010 at 10:57 am

I would have to add that “The Tube” also was active before the digital transition, when very few people had the equipment to watch. That made it hard for sub-channels in general. No audience, no ads, no go!!!

Judie Binder says:

May 13, 2010 at 2:40 am

What was great about The Tube was that it was non-stop music videos, although that did contribute to the network’s demise. Yet when a viewer tunes to a music video station, they expect immediacy, and The Tube provided that. Maybe an alternative to airing spots/breaks that interrupt the flow of music would be to run ads in the lower thirds as seen on You Tube or lower third promos on network programming. LATV runs text messaging in the lower thirds, seen on “Texty Beat.”


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