The new company is founded and led by Jonathan Katz, who gained attention a decade ago by creating multicast networks, or “diginets” using spectrum made available via the TV industry’s conversion to high-definition signals during the 2000s. That portfolio of networks, including Bounce, Escape and Grit was acquired in 2017 by E.W. Scripps for $292 million.
The first channels from Free TV will be networks centered on African-American programming and Westerns. Launching New Year’s Day as a diginet, the flagship brand will be The365 (tagline: “Black, All Day, Every Day”). It will cater to African-American viewers with a lineup of movies and series like
Warner Bros.’ I Am Legend, Purple Rain and Queen Sugar along with Lionsgate titles like Crash, Monster’s Ball, Jackie Brown, Madea’s Family Reunion and Dear White People.
FTN’s second over-the-air network, Outlaw, will also go live on January 1, aiming for male viewers with movies like Warner’s Unforgiven, Chisum, Pale Rider and Wyatt Earp.
With a foundation provided by Gray, one of the top U.S. station groups by revenue and number of markets, the new networks will launch with distribution in 80% of the country.
Along with the broadcast launches, Free TV Networks will also light up several FAST networks in the coming months, driven by acquired content, including streaming versions of The365 and Outlaw.
“Never underestimate the power of ‘free.’ Audiences and advertisers have driven the thriving ad market for digital broadcast networks to well over $1 Billion, with FAST channel revenues now more than $5 billion,” said Katz. “The Free TV Networks team has a successful and profitable track record scaling well-defined brands designed to serve the ever-growing number of value-conscious consumers combining free over-the-air and FAST channels with their favorite streaming services.”
Katz had recently been president of Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment, and his past career chapters included an executive run at Turner Broadcasting. Joining Katz in announcing the new entity were David Decker, President, Content Sales, Warner Bros. Discovery; Jim Packer, President of Worldwide Television Distribution, Lionsgate; and Pat LaPlatney, President & Co-CEO, Gray Television.
Free TV Networks roster of founders and board directors includes human rights activist and philanthropist Martin Luther King III and businessman Alan Haymon, known for his work in music, television and boxing.