MGM Jumps Into the Multicast Game

7/27/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

Broadcast stations are getting another option for the post-digital switchover world as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is rolling out “This TV,” a new ad-supported round-the-clock linear digital channel designed for stations’ digital spectrum.

The new network, a partnership with Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting, will launch this fall. It gets immediate carriage with Weigel stations in Chicago, Milwaukee and South Bend, Ind.

The idea is for MGM is to leverage its library of more than 4,100 films and 10,000 hours of television programming, but also give stations the chance to localize the look. “This TV” will offer stations programming all day every day, but stations signing on have the right to a certain number of preemptions so they can localize the channel with sports, news and weather if they want.

The lineup will be film-heavy, with possible titles including 12 Angry Men and Class, starring Rob Lowe, as well as made-for-TV movies such as The Burning Bed. It also will have classic television shows ranging from The Addams Family to Thirtysomething.

“This is counter programming to some of the digital offerings you are seeing out there, like news and weather,” said Jim Packer, co-president of MGM Worldwide Television. “We do have some competitors out there, but we feel we have the backing of the MGM library with titles that are local station-centric [and] have proved they work on free TV — that are the kinds of titles we feel are uniquely positioned to help out a station.”

Also crafted into the plan is that stations can take a certain amount of programming off the service and plug it into their regular analog station lineup.

MGM has also partnered with Cookie Jar Entertainment to handle all FCC-approved educational programming for the new network. “This TV” will offer a kids’ block every day of the week.

Weigel Broadcasting executive vice president Neal Sabin will oversee programming for the new outfit. He has previously launched independent stations and formats such as “The U” at WCIU Chicago, and “Me TV” and Me-Too,” which are digital formats featuring classic TV on WCIU’s analog and digital multicast channels.

“We’ve built a number of successful stations in competitive markets, and having MGM’s rich library of quality entertainment will provide our broadcast partners with a distinctive advantage,” Sabin said. “The 'This TV’ name also gives us a number of on-air marketing opportunities such as: 'This is the place for movies,’ 'This is the channel!’ 'Stay here for This’ and 'This is what you’re watching.’ ”

Kim Bryson, MGM senior vice president of ad sales, will handle ad sales for “This TV” out of MGM’s New York office. Packer’s goal is to get at least 40% clearance across the country within the first year.

The network will be entirely in standard-definition, and will forego the use of infomercials, which Packer noted can present challenges for stations trying to gain local cable coverage. Online plans are still being formulated, but at launch, the service will have a central Web site and then work with local stations for localized enhancements on station sites.

The network will launch without any talent, but Packer said MGM is not opposed to using a hosted-movie format, which Sabin has done on some of his stations.

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