Before the conversion of analog to digital, television broadcast stations had a single channel—whether it was NBC, ABC, CBS, or FOX, collectively known as “The Big 4.” Once the digital conversion was complete, the broadcasters had extra space on their broadcast spectrum to air “sub-channels” or what we now call multicast stations. So, if NBC is the .1 signal of a broadcast station, the .2, .3, .4, slots were “open” channels that could air content. One of the very first multicast channels is still one of the most popular – MeTV, which airs classic or retro TV shows, was started by Weigel Broadcasting in 2009. Weigel went on to create several more multicast channels, including Heroes & Icons, Movies! Decades and Start TV.
Today, we see broadcasters carrying (or creating their own) multicasts that are intended to target audiences who enjoy specific types of programming, such as Crime and Justice dramas, ‘90s family shows, or ‘70s war-themed creations. Just as cable networks have a flagship channel surrounded by lesser viewed networks; broadcast networks are adding these multicasts because they know our customers want the Big 4 network and then will require us to carry these lesser viewed channels curated with syndicated reruns.
The truth is, many pay-tv subscribers may not even realize these multicast networks exist, despite their increasing popularity among the broadcasters who keep adding them.
In 2019, Tegna bought two multicasts from Cooper Media, adding adventure-oriented Quest and crime-based True Crime to its suite of channel offerings. Most recently, the broadcasting company launched Twist—a women-oriented multicast that contains shows revolving around food, home, and reality content.
Not to be outdone, on July 1, E.W. Scripps is launching two new multicast networks—one of which is targeting male audience members and the other focusing on women 25 to 54. The addition of Doozy and Defy TV to the Scripps brand follows an acquisition of another multicast provider, Katz Networks, which added the likes of Bounce, Court TV Mystery, Grit, and Laff to its portfolio. With the acquisition of ION networks, the Scripps multicast lineup will encompass a whopping NINE networks.
And that’s not all for Scripps. This coming October, the company plans to launch Newsy—a streaming news channel.
These are only a couple of the multicast additions that have been taking place in the rapidly changing broadcast industry. In 2020, Byron Allen bought This TV and Light TV from MGM, adding these two channels to the portfolio of broadcast and cable stations already owned by Allen Media Group (cable channels including The Weather Channel and Entertainment Studios networks as well as affiliated broadcast television stations).
Staying on top of all the multicast station adjustments is like keeping track of MLB roster changes at the trade deadline.
What viewer wouldn’t love having increased access to content libraries, particularly when the new networks are aimed directly at their specific demographics? However, there is a hidden danger lurking beneath these multicast channel additions. Multicast obligations are one of the biggest negotiation hurdles to overcome in retransmission consent agreements. Often hidden deep in the language of carriage agreements, you may not be aware of what your rights and obligations are with multicast stations.
At CNS, we keep records of broadcast stations, their ownership, and their multicast feeds. If we negotiated your retransmission consent agreements, we know what your obligations are for these stations. We can help you decide if adding additional multicasts to your lineup will help or harm your video lineup.