MGM revealed Nov. 16 that Mark Burnett and wife Roma Downey are launching what is being billed as the first 24/7 network for faith and family content. But Light TV is more than meets the eye. Beginning in December, Light TV will be broadcast via Fox affiliates in L.A., New York and several other major cities as a digital multicast, a subchannel like the ones used to broadcast QVC and HSN, as well as such genre-specific channels as African-American-targeted Bounce TV and Katz Broadcasting's crime- and mystery-focused Escape and action-adventure-themed Grit.
MGM already boasts sci-fi-themed multicast channel Comet and classics provider This TV. Such channels offer MGM a low-cost way to repackage old movies and TV series from its storied library, in Light's case Rocky, Hoosiers, The Nutcracker, All Dogs Go to Heaven and Pink Panther, while also sharing in a portion of the advertising revenue.
"If you're a rights owner, you want to figure out how to maximize the value of your portfolio," says Pivotal Research Group advertising analyst Brian Wieser. "If you've got a deep library of content that wasn't going to see revenue, then it makes sense to do it in this way."
Light TV also gives both the studio and the power couple a new way to reach the growing faith-based audience. Burnett, who serves as president of MGM Television and Digital, and Downey have found success with such religious projects as the miniseries The Bible. Although Downey referred to family-friendly entertainment as "the last unclaimed vertical," Light TV will face competition from cable competitors Hallmark and Up.
Working in favor of multicast digital channels like Light TV is their easy accessibility. The 5-year-old Bounce is available in 81 percent of U.S. homes. In March, it drew 1.3 million viewers over two airings for the premiere of original soap Saints & Sinners.
Although Light TV is starting out with lower penetration than Bounce, the plan is to strike deals with more Fox affiliates after it launches. Given the potential reach, says Wieser, "there's a business model to be had there."
This story first appeared in the Dec. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.