As viewers watch more video content in real time and cancel their cable / satellite subscriptions, broadcast stations have doubled on over-the-air television (OTA) with free advertising, a business model whose origins began with the first television advertisement (Bulova watches) that aired on July 1, 1941.
In recent years, groups of broadcasting stations have launched free over-the-air digital multicast networks, a capability that began in 2009 when high-definition digital television replaced analog television. (These multicast networks have also been called digital). Since digital signals can be compressed, local television stations can provide additional channels to viewers. Several groups of stations have launched these multicast networks, which include; Scripps
These multicast networks can be distributed from your station owners, other station groups, cable / satellite providers, and over-the-top (OTT). Penetration varies, but many multicast networks are available in more than half the country, and some reach more than 90% of all US TV households.
Similar to cable and network television, multicast networks have both national and local television commercials. This also allows groups of stations to access network television ad budgets. The largest multicast networks, measured nationally by Nielsen, have multiple general market advertisers. Smaller multicast networks rely more on direct response ads for revenue. Local advertising dollars for multicast networks can come from sponsorships, direct response, and local advertisers. However, the estimated ad revenue for local and network advertising is less than $ 1 billion, but has been increasing.
A vast majority of programming on multicast networks is acquired and many focus on a particular genre or a specific target audience. Ironically, despite being broadcast digitally, most of the programming was shot in standard definition and many in black and white. Furthermore, the audience profile of most multicast networks is older, with an average age of over 60 years. Currently, there are several multicast networks available to audiences.
Among the most active station groups is Scripps. In August 2019, Scripps acquired Katz Network and its multicast networking group to $ 302 million. At that time, Katz Network owned four multicast networks nationwide; Bounce, Laff, Grit and Escape.
Bounce was launched in 2011 and is aimed at African American audiences. Bounce is one of the few multicast networks that produces original programs, although most of the content is acquired. Scripps has plans to broadcast Bounce later this year. Grit launched in 2014 and targets men with purchased westerns and action movies. Laff, released in 2015, focuses on comedy with sitcoms and purchased films. Court TV Mystery (formerly Escape) launched in 2014 and airs crime mysteries and dramas.
In January 2021, Scripps completed the acquisition of ION Media, a broadcast network, at a reported cost of $ 2.65 billion. The ION stations will be used to distribute the networks acquired by Katz. Scripps also announced plans to combine ION stations with Newsy, its national OTT news network, to create a national OTA network that will launch on October 1st. Another member of the Scripps multicast OTA portfolio is Court TV, relaunched in May 2019. Additionally, following ION’s media deal, Scripps will launch two new multicast networks on July 1; Challenge TV and Doozy. Both will schedule reality TV programs with Defy TV aimed at men and Doozy aimed at women.
Sinclair has launched three multicast channels in recent years; Comet TV, Charge and TBD-TV that have rated as The battery to advertisers. Comet TV started in 2015 and televises science fiction movies and shows. Charge !, launched in 2017, focuses on action and adventure content. TBD-TV also started in 2017 with internet-related content aimed at younger audiences.
In 2018 Tegna paid $ 77 million from Cooper Media, to acquire a reported 85% for two multicast networks, The Justice Network, launched in 2015, renamed True Crime Network and Quest. True Crime consists of non-fiction content, such as true crime documentaries and forensic science. Quest, released in 2018, features action-based adventure reality programming, among other content. Last April, Tegna launched her third channel Twist, a lifestyle and reality-based network targeting women.
Weigel Broadcasting owns Me TV, one of the most popular multicast networks. Me TV (short for Memorable Entertainment Television) offers classic television programming from the 1950s to the 1990s. Last May, Weigel announced the launch of a spin-off network. MeTV +, which offers similar classic television programming. Another Weigel multicast network is Heroes & Icons, launched in 2014. H&I airs classic television programming with a focus on superheroes, action / adventure, science fiction, and westerns. In 2018 (at the suggestion of CBS), Weigel launched Start TV, which targets women with female-centric dramas.
In 2015, Weigel, in association with CBS, launched Decades, with retro programming consisting of comedies mixed with variety shows and dramas. One multicast network owned by CBS is Dabl, a lifestyle network launched in 2019.
In 2011, Tribune (since it was acquired by Nexstar) launched the multicast network Antenna TV, featuring classic television comedies dating back to the 1950s. On September 1, Nexstar will launch a complementary multicast network Rewind TV with comedies. classic situation charts of the 1980s and 1990s.
Another major multicast network is NBCU’s Cozi TV. The network launched in 2009 as NBC NonStop and airs classic pop culture programming. In 2019, NBCU started NBC.LX, a digital news network targeting younger audiences (cable cut). The news network can also be broadcast. NBCU and Telemundo launched TeleXitos in 2014, which televises classic English-language television programs dubbed into Spanish.
Some other larger multicast networks include the Univision-owned UniMas (formerly TeleFutura) channel, which targets Hispanic young adults. Fremantle operates Buzzr, which airs classic game shows. Allen Media Group owns ThisTV, featuring classic movies and television programming. Sony’s GetTV also broadcasts classic TV shows. There are several other recent multicast channels.
Dave Morgan, CEO of Simulmedia notes: “The extraordinary growth of multicast television networks over the past five years is one of the least told stories in the media industry. Today, more people are watching more advertising for longer on multicast networks in the US than on ad-supported streaming services, and all that viewing is new. Multicast networks may not be as attractive as AVOD, but they are bigger. “
The average audience for top-tier multicast networks is now comparable to many ad-supported cable networks.
Average audience (in 000)
I TV 786
Bounce TV 243
TV Queues 196
Heroes and icons 189
Court TV Mystery 155
Monday to Sunday (8-11 pm), May 2021
Source: Nielsen (Live + Same Day)
Although cable systems can carry multicast networks, all that is required for viewers is a digital antenna. A recent Horowitz Research study, found in February 2021, 40% of all American viewers age 18 and older have a digital antenna, an increase from 29% from the previous year (before the pandemic). Horowitz Research estimates that 48.4 million television households now have a digital antenna. With the cost of some digital antennas under $ 20, strong sales are expected to continue.
The deployment of multicast networks is expected to continue with the deployment of ATSC 3.0 (also known as Next Gen TV). ATSC 3.0 is estimated to reach 50% of all US TV households by 2022. ATSC 3.0 comes with many updates, including more bandwidth, which will allow for more multicast networks.
Rick Ducey, Managing Director of BIA Advisory Services, says: “ATSC 3.0 enables a new platform strategy for broadcasters to bring content, applications and other services to televisions and a variety of other devices. For local television operators, ATSC 3.0 is a new Internet-compatible broadband wireless pipeline to distribute content to consumers wherever they are and whatever they are using to consume television that is unique to these local stations. This creates a generational opportunity for local television to redefine its relationship with the public around beloved and familiar content, as well as the new services they bring to market. “
With more available bandwidth, a reliance on purchased programming resulting in low operating costs, increasing ad revenue, a programming alternative for cable cutters (not slowing down), as well as a free add-on for streaming services Subscriber-based video viewers can expect continued multicast TV channel launches for years to come.
Eighty years after the first television commercial, and despite all the technological advances since then, free, ad-supported and wireless television has a promising future.