With free TV experiencing a mini-renaissance, a pioneer in the digital broadcast space is launching a new venture — with help from several big players.
Jonathan Katz, who founded Katz Broadcasting (Bounce TV, Court TV, Laff), is launching Free TV Networks with two diginets on Jan. 1. The new channels will be offered over the air and via free, ad-supported streaming in partnership with Warner Bros. Discovery and Lionsgate — which will both provide content for the channels — and station owner Gray Television.
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The two channels set to launch on New Year’s Day are The365, aimed at Black viewers, and Outlaw, which will feature classic westerns. Both will be available in about 80 percent of the United States. Streaming versions of the two channels will launch later next year, along with channels titled VCR Action and VCR Haha, featuring movies from “the VHS era” (i.e., the 1980s and ’90s).
“Never underestimate the power of ‘free,’” Katz said in a statement. “Audiences and advertisers have driven the thriving ad market for digital broadcast networks to well over $1 billion, with FAST channel revenues now more than $5 billion. The Free TV Networks team has a successful and profitable track record scaling well-defined brands designed to serve the ever-growing number of value-conscious consumers combining free over-the-air and FAST channels with their favorite streaming services.”
Free TV Networks counts human rights activist and philanthropist Martin Luther King III and music manager and boxing manager Alan Haymon among its founders and board members. Katz will serve as president and CEO. Former Scripps Networks exec Maria Harvey joins the company as CFO, and Phil Oppenheim, a veteran of Lionsgate, Epix and Turner Broadcasting, will be chief content officer.
“We have a long and successful strategy licensing our world-class content to every platform — from networks and syndication to digital and streaming,” said David Decker, president content sales at Warner Bros. Discovery. “Free TV Networks fits this perfectly, and we’re happy to offer our hit films and television shows to their audiences.”
“These digital broadcast and FAST channels bring together two content leaders, one of the nation’s largest broadcast companies, and a respected industry pioneer in support of a strong lineup of African American and Western programming,” said Jim Packer, president worldwide television distribution for Lionsgate. “This is a great opportunity to serve two large and scalable demos with world-class IP in a well-defined market segment.”
Added Gray Television president and co-CEO Pat LaPlatney, “Serving diverse communities is a key piece of our strategy at Gray and has served us well for decades. Our partnership with Free TV Networks is another illustration of our strong commitment to the continued growth of broadcast television within today’s media ecosystem and the importance of delivering high-value entertainment without high costs to our viewers.”
Katz most recently was president of Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, which owns Redbox and Crackle in addition to its namesake AVOD and FAST streaming outlet. Prior to starting Katz Broadcasting, he headed program planning and acquisitions for Turner Entertainment.
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