Channel Aims To Bring Viewers, Crooks to Justice

A posse of high-caliber TV execs is starting a digital multicast network aimed at capturing viewers and catching bad guys.

The Justice Network, scheduled to launch in January, will air proven crime and mystery genre programming with hourly original interstitial segments featuring reallife criminals at large, missing children and family safety tips.

The network is bankrolled by Lonnie Cooper, CEO of Atlanta sports marketing agency CSE and a founder of Bounce TV, the successful multicast broadcast network aimed at African-Americans. Cooper will be majority shareholder of the new channel.

Former National Geographic Channel president Steve Schiffman is CEO. Heading programming is former Discovery and NatGeo exec John Ford, and Barry Wallach , previously president of NBC Universal Domestic TV Distribution, is in charge of distribution.

The Justice Network aims to move into a multicast arena filled mostly with services offering classic TV shows. Earlier this year, a network aimed at men called Grit and a network aimed at women called Escape were launched by Katz Broadcasting, started by former Turner exec Jonathan Katz, who is also COO of Bounce.

Getting Coverage Out of the Gate

Signing up Gannett will put the Justice Network in more than 30% of the country.

Gannett Broadcasting president Dave Lougee says the Justice Network team has done its homework and found a genre that will succeed on a multicast channel. “We believe in the strategy and we’re impressed with them as partners who know what they’re doing,” Lougee says. “These guys are really committed to [public service] and public service is a key part of who we are. That’s another attractive piece of it.”

The idea for the channel was born a year ago while Schiffman was working with Cooper , who said he’d like to launch a multicast network that had real purpose. “Being able to launch a commercial enterprise that’s truly making a difference in communities and making families safer, is a pretty cool thing and you don’t always get an opportunity like that,” Schiffman says.

To staff up, Schiffman called Ford. They worked together at NatGeo and are neighbors in Chevy Chase, Md. Ford also was involved in developing Discovery’s Investigation Discovery channel.

Ford has already rounded up 400 hours of programming that appeared on CourtTV and TruTV from Turner Broadcasting. Titles include Body ofEvidence, Masterminds, The Investigators and I, Detective. He says he’s finalizing another deal that will give him 600 hours at launch.

“It’s going to be sticky programming that attracts a target audience of women 25-54 that we think will come back often and stay tuned a long time while they’re watching the network,” Ford says. “And it creates an environment for our social message about how to prevent crime and find missing children.”

Ford figures creating long-form original programming is a year away when the network has an understanding of what’s working with its audience. “One of the mistakes some networks make when they start out is to have such a high burn rate that they can’t survive very long. We’re hopeful we won’t do that,” he says.

Schiffman said he came together with Wallach thanks to former colleagues. “It was clear from my first phone call with Barry that he was a perfect fit.”

Eyeing the Next Multicast Trend

Wallach says broadcasters are looking for what comes next in the multicast space after the Nick at Nite format and they’ve seen that “cable networks have been successful with this whodunit programming. The stuff gets ratings.”

More important, with the interstitials, it’s tied into stations’ mission to provide local news and information. “Even though it’s only 90 seconds per hour, finding a criminal, returning a lost kid and providing practical safety information is a very powerful 90 seconds.”

Those 90 seconds can be customized per local stations or sponsored by advertisers, Wallach says. More information on wanted bad guys or missing kids will be available on the network’s website.

The Justice Network expects to have a mix of direct response and consumer advertising and will work on a revenue split with its station partners. It is close to signing a deal with a rep firm that will manage ad sales.

Schiffman says promotion for the network will start in January. Gannett will support it with promotions and by installing encoding equipment enabling stations to run the standard definition Justice Network feed alongside the HD feed of their primary affiliation.

Making a companywide multicast deal became a priority as acquisitions expanded its footprint. Some weather radar channels will be dropped but existing relationships the stations have with other programmers will continue, Lougee says.

“I think it’s frankly great when a broadcaster can bring more good quality programming to people’s homes through over-the-air technology,” he says.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.