TV

Schiffman, Ford outline vision for Justice

As the multicast channel Justice Network launches today (January 20), execs Steve Schiffman (pictured, left) and John Ford (right) tell realscreen about leaving cable behind to carve out a niche in the free-to-air space.
January 20, 2015

A group of cable veterans will jump into the world of free-to-air multicast when the crime-focused Justice Network launches tonight (January 20).

As realscreen reported in November, the channel is backed by Atlanta-based sports and entertainment marketer Lonnie Cooper, who first moved into the multicast arena with the African-American net Bounce TV in 2011.

In 2013, Cooper approached former National Geographic Channels president Steve Schiffman (pictured above, left) and proposed launching another multicast channel. Schiffman suggested justice programming, which tends to rate well – as evidenced by the success of U.S. cable net Investigation Discovery.

As broadcasters transitioned from analog to digital, local stations were able to provide multiple channels – also known as sub-channels – simultaneously for free and over the air. For that reason, execs see Justice Network’s competitors as other multicast nets and the traditional broadcasters – not cablers.

“Frankly, within the multicast and broadcast space there is not a lot of competition,” explains Schiffman, Justice’s CEO, adding the target demo is 25-54 with a female skew in the US$50,000 income bracket, some post-secondary education, and a tendency to respond to direct response advertising.

“In the multicast space, many of the entrants in the marketplace like Me TV and Antenna TV air older movies and television shows but it is more alphabet soup-ish,” he continues. “We have a differentiated service based on a genre that is one of the more popular genres in all of television.”

Former Discovery Channel president John Ford (pictured above, right) will serve as Justice’s head of programming; former NBCUniversal domestic TV distribution president Barry Wallach is the head of distribution; and Wendy Brown of Bounce TV will serve as COO.

At launch, the channel will exclusively air acquisitions, having bought 450 hours from the Turner library including Court TV and TruTV programs such as LA Forensics, Body of Evidence and Alaska State Troopers. The goal is to start developing original programming in a year’s time.

To differentiate the network further, Justice will air 90-second public service spots every hour on the hour that are produced in partnership with Crime Stoppers USA, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and other law enforcement agencies. Hosted by John Walsh (America’s Most Wanted, CNN’s The Hunt), the PSAs will be regionally targeted and focus on missing children, safety tips and highlighting a fugitive – or “Bad Person of the Week” – who needs to be brought to justice.

“This is obviously a for-profit business. We want to make money but how cool is it to have a real mission behind creating a for-profit service?” adds Schiffman. “If we can pull that off –and we fully intend to—that’s the real power of media.”

Moreover, Justice programming is relatively low-cost compared with other factual genres. The focus is on acquired content with compelling characters and story-arcs, which does not preclude doc-style programming, but Schiffman is not interested in historical or newsy documentaries. The crux of a successful show, he says, is a life-threatening event, such as murder.

“In the crime and investigation space most people don’t really know the names of a lot of these shows,” he says. “ID is one of the best branded, marketed and successful channels out there, but most people could not tell you – even avid ID watchers – the names of the shows.”

Gannett Broadcasting will launch Justice Network across one-third of the country. Schiffman says he will be patient, noting it took years for National Geographic Channel to hit 10 million subscribers. However, the team are optimistic the free-to-air nature of multicast will expedite that process.

John Ford, who served as Discovery Channel’s president from 2007 to 2009, predicts a sea change as more multicast options come online, providing a lower cost alternative and convenient alternative to cable packages and streaming subscriptions.

“It’s like cable in the 1980s,”says Ford, “It’s experiencing high rates of growth. It’s relatively easy to break into. I wouldn’t recommend anyone starting a cable network right now. No one wants to carry you and no one probably wants to watch you, but in this space you can get going and build something relatively quickly.”

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