The multicast network, which just went live, features syndicated titles like The Closer, Medium, The Good Wife and heart-tugging 2000s drama Sue Thomas, FBEye, about a deaf FBI agent. With CBS stations as its initial foundation, Start will reach 42% of U.S. households at launch, with 60% coverage projected by the first quarter of 2019. Emphasizing live viewing, it features an ultra-predictable schedule with shows airing seven days a week in the same timeslots.
Plans for the launch were announced in July, but Deadline had an exclusive interview about Start with the executive steering the network for Weigel, company vice chairman Neal Sabin.
“We never say ‘no men allowed’ and we don’t say ‘programming for women,'” he noted. Down the line, Sabin said the network will aim to be a more general entertainment network. Even so, the female-forward launch strategy “has gotten a tremendous response at ad agencies,” he said. And Weigel is producing a series of interstitials under the banner My Start Story that will run for 30 or 60 seconds, with longer versions online and possibly fueling an unscripted series in the future. The spots highlight both the women with ties to Start programming and women working in fields like medicine, sports and law whose real-life stories connect with Start’s lineup.
Multicast TV, an emerging sector now valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, takes its name from the technological ability to broadcast multiple signals to viewers. The networks are sometimes called “diginets” for their digital functionality and origins in the 2000s transition to high-definition broadcasting, which created new slots on the dial. Among the dozens of multicast networks that have sprung up in recent years are Bounce, Antenna, Comet and Buzzr. Many are owned by station groups such as Weigel, E.W. Scripps, Sinclair Broadcast Group or Tribune Media, which see the growing arena as a valuable complement to the challenged traditional station business.
The top multicast networks reach sizable audiences and have comparatively low overhead in terms of staffing and programming costs. In terms of daytime total viewers, for example, Weigel’s MeTV ranked No. 6 in August among all networks measured by Nielsen across broadcast and cable, ahead of established rivals like HGTV and ID. In prime time, it was No. 19 with its comfort-food diet of classics like M*A*S*H and The Andy Griffith Show. The family-owned Weigel, based in Chicago, also operates the networks Decades (another partnership with CBS stations), Heroes & Icons, and the Fox Television Stations teaming, Movies!
“What has helped is that technology has enabled groups to air us without denigrating their own signal,” Sabin said. New tech standards being tested by broadcasters under the trade name ATSC 3.0 will open up even greater opportunities for interactive content and higher-quality transmissions.
While new digital tools are a boon to multicast networks, the macro trend of cord-cutting “cuts both ways,” Sabin said. “People who cut the cord and have a TV antenna tend to watch our networks in higher numbers. Though I do worry a little about the people who cut the cord and don’t use an antenna.”