Scripps to launch two new broadcast networks, push for more streaming deals

(Logo: Scripps/Graphic: The Desk)

Fresh off the heels of its acquisition of Ion Media, the E. W. Scripps company said this week it plans to launch two new digital broadcast networks under its Katz Networks subsidiary.

The channels, Doozy and Defy TV, are expected to start broadcasting in July, executives said in a press release.

Both networks will contain programming that has been available for syndication but has not typically aired on broadcast channels.

Doozy will carry drama and reality shows geared toward a 25-year-old to 54-year-old female audience. Shows slated for broadcast include “Hoarders,” “Little Women: L.A.,” and “Storage Wars.”

Defy TV will focus on the same age demographic but with a focus toward men, with shows like “American Pickers,” “The Curse of Oak Island” and “Forged in Fire.”

Scripps is expected to carry these channels on digital broadcast stations that are owned and operated under the Ion Media brand. Scripps agreed to pay more than $2.6 billion for Ion last year; the deal was consummated in January. Earlier this month, Scripps replaced several Ion digital subchannels with three of its own: Laff, Court TV and Bounce TV.

It continues to carry two shopping networks — HSN and QVC — but those channels are expected to be dropped later this year. In a press release, Scripps executives hinted they would be replaced with the new Doozy and Defy TV channels.

Ion will continue to operate as a network, and Scripps will continue to use third party affiliate agreements for distribution of its Court TV Mystery and Grit broadcast networks.

But free broadcast television is just one element in Scripps’ arsenal: This week, company executives said they would continue to strategize around carriage agreements on streaming television services, including ones that are free to viewers and supported by advertisements.

Scripps already has several agreements to provide a simulcast of Court TV and a variant of its news channel Newsy to free streaming services. Both brands appear on Pluto TV, a free streaming service operated by ViacomCBS, while Newsy also appears on the Roku Channel, STIRR, Xumo and Samsung TV Plus.

At an investor event on Wednesday, Lisa Knutson, the president of Scripps’ national networks business, said the company’s goal was to reach television viewers wherever they choose to consume content, whether that’s free, ad-supported streaming services, broadcast television or cable.

That strategy will likely include offering some of the Katz Networks on streaming platforms similar to how Court TV and Newsy are distributed.

“I would expect that we will continue to run plays from that playbook, moving more of our free network programming into the free ad-supported streaming marketplace,” Knutson said.

Less clear is how those channels will be presented when they appear on streaming platforms. Court TV’s signal on Pluto TV, for example, is the same signal that is distributed to broadcast affiliates and through Ion stations.

Newsy, on the other hand, operates two different streams — a polished network with live morning and evening news programs that is offered to cable, satellite and pay TV companies, and a computerized stream with rolling news clips that is distributed to free streaming services. (Both versions of Newsy carry live breaking news during major events.)

Both channels have helped Scripps draw what one executive called “meaningful revenue” at a time when consumer attention to television is all over the place, but tends to settle on streaming. The company’s approach to Newsy — put it everywhere — has been particularly rewarding during the ongoing coronavirus health crisis when Americans wanted informative news without a side order of political bickering.

“I think that great dividends last year when so much of the country wanted news and wanted that trusted source of information on local, and we were able to stay engaged with our customers when the networks were into regular programming,” Brian Lawlor, an executive in charge of local media, said on Wednesday.

Newsy’s programming is helped by around five dozen local broadcast stations — many of which are affiliated with major networks — whose local newsrooms produce stories that are later seen on the cable and streaming news network.

The idea of taking local news and putting it on a national platform is not new: CNN has operated an affiliate model to help the network obtain live breaking news videos and stories of interest for years (stations, in turn, get national and international news packages that they otherwise would not), and each of the major broadcast networks have their own affiliate news distribution systems in place.

But CNN and the networks don’t own the local news content that comes from their affiliates. Scripps, on the other hand, does own the content that originates from its broadcast stations. For the last few years, it has found new ways to capitalize on that content by offering it up to a national audience through Newsy. Its model has been copied by Sinclair Broadcast Group and Nexstar Media Group for similar products (STIRR and NewsNation, respectively), with varying degrees of success.

While its competitors play catch-up, Scripps is pushing forward with a plan to capitalize on its wholly-owned and licensed content. In addition to pitching its digital networks to streaming services, Scripps executives have started pitching its entire bundle of digital and broadcast networks to advertisers as a one-stop shop to reach a wide variety of consumers.

On Wednesday, the insider publication Broadcasting & Cable reported Scripps had forecast its national network revenues to increase 10 percent annually while generating profit margins of about 40 percent based on its distribution and sales strategies.

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