Jonathan Katz Forms Free TV Networks Business With Warner Bros. Discovery, Lionsgate, Gray TV
Jonathan Katz, who launched Bounce TV and other early digital broadcast networks, has formed Free TV Networks working with programmers Warner Bros. Discovery and Lionsgate, along with station owner Gray Television.
The new company will focus on free over-the-air and streaming channels, starting with digital broadcast channels The365, serving African-American viewers, and Outlaw, featuring Westerns.
Both are set to premiere January 1 with distribution in 80% of the U.S., the company said.
In addition to Gray stations, the networks will be carried by stations owned by RNN Media Group and HC2 Broadcasting.
Martin Luther King III, who was a co-founder of Bounce, and boxing manager Alan Haymon will serve on the Free TV Networks board.
Free TV also plans to launch FAST (free ad-supported streaming television) versions of The365 and Outlook, plus VCR Action and VCR Haha, FAST channels featuring action and comedy movies and series from the VHS era.
“Never underestimate the power of ‘free,’” Katz said. “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.”
Now he’s looking to start up a new batch of channels with both digital broadcast and FAST channels becoming increasingly popular with viewers and a good business for program distributors.
“We have a long and successful strategy licensing our world-class content to every platform — from networks and syndication to digital and streaming,” David Decker, president, content sales at Warner Bros. Discovery, said. “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,” Jim Packer, president of worldwide television distribution at Lionsgate, said. “This is a great opportunity to serve two large and scalable demos with world-class IP in a well-defined market segment.”
The content airing on The365 (billed as “Black All Day, Every Day”) includes I Am Legend, Purple Rain, Queen Sugar along Crash, Monster’s Ball, Jackie Brown, Madea’s Family Reunion and the satirical comedy/drama Dear White People.
Outlaw’s programming will include Unforgiven, Chisum, Pale Rider and Wyatt Earp.
Station owners have been betting that viewers are getting sticker shock from cable and streaming and will spend more time with free over-the-air television.
“Serving diverse communities is a key piece of our strategy at Gray and has served us well for decades,” Gray president Pat LaPlatney said. “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 also named the top executive team for his new company, many of whom worked at Katz Networks, Scripps and Turner.
The executives include Maria Harvey, chief financial officer; Phil Oppenheim, chief content officer; Richard Steiner, chief digital officer; Jackie Trube, chief people officer; Jon Marks, chief research officer; Noriko Ishihara, executive VP, ad sales operations; Joe Cantrell, executive VP, network operations & development; Bryan Slonaker, executive VP, creative services; Tracy Underwood, chief of staff; Jim Mitchell, senior VP, chief of technical operations; Amber Hrabovsky, senior VP, content operations; Jeff Carr, VP, content; and Nia Dozier, VP, standards and practices.