The Media Notepad: Merit hooks up with TBN for distribution

Also: PBC heads to Amazon Prime; Paramount Global may be on sales block; Cord-cutting having an impact on Baltimore’s finances 

More information was released last week about Dr. Phil McGraw’s new network Merit Street is relying on an old standby to distribute the network. 

Trinity Broadcasting Network, who usually broadcasts non-secular fare, will air several hours of Dr. Phil’s new network starting on February 26. Launched in 1973 as a religious network, TBN owns 35 full-power TV stations (including Chicago’s WWTO/WLPD) and numerous affiliates, plus distribution deals with satcasters Dish and DirecTV plus other cable providers. Merit also plans to distribute programming through free ad-supported channels (FAST) and digital platforms.

Merit plans four hours of original programming including Dr. Phil Primetime. Other programming includes family-friendly shows, personality-driven talk, and true crime programming (and as we know, it’s the perfect programming fit for TBN…) More details on what or who would appear on the network are still under wraps. 

“We are thrilled to embark on this groundbreaking journey by creating a network that is not only widely accessible but also a hub for diverse, engaging content,” said Merit Street Media COO and former WMAQ news director Joel Cheatwood. “With our commitment to delivering high-quality programming across multiple platforms, we anticipate Merit Street will be a trailblazer among networks.”

Merit Street was announced a month ago with plans to produce programming from new studios being constructed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, also known as the Metroplex and where McGraw currently resides. McGraw was the host of his own daily syndicated talk show from 2002 until this year. 

CBS owner Paramount Global could be on the sales block if recent reports are any indication.

Stock in the company soared Friday after two firms surfaced as possible buyers Skydance and hedge fund RedBird Capital were interested in buying the ailing studio. On Friday, Paramount shares closed up more than 12 percent according to a CNBC report.

Controlling shareholder Shari Redstone – who is the daughter of the late Viacom magnate Summer Redstone, may be looking to bail as losses from the transition to streaming and the declining value of linear TV is piling up, not to mention prolonged strikes from the WGA and SAG-AFTRA earlier this year.

Paramount has a debt load of $15.6 billion, with investors wondering how the giant is going to push ahead for 2024 – especially with a $2 billion invoice due for the NFL – something credit ratings agencies are watching.

Despite being the top-rated network among viewers for years, CBS’ owned stations continue to trail its NBC, ABC, and Nexstar counterparts in the nation’s largest markets, including CBS 2 (WBBM-TV) here in Chicago. Recently, KCBS-TV’s newscasts in Los Angeles were re-branded KCAL News, a rare instance of an independent station’s newscasts taking over the branding of a major owned-and-operated one as KCBS has never been a successful stand-alone player in the L.A. market. Both KCBS and KCAL are CBS-owned stations and are one news operation.

Things haven’t been rosy for Paramount Global since their re-merger of Viacom and CBS in 2019 as ViacomCBS, fourteen years after a split. The company dropped the Viacom name after 51 years and renamed it after the studio it owns Paramount Global, and relaunched the CBS All-Access streaming service to Paramount Plus, who had to turn to WalMart and Straight Talk in a bundling plan to gain more subscribers as they trailed other studios. One result of a sale could be the closure of Paramount Plus and the sale of successful FAST operator Pluto TV, which could fetch more than $1.7 billion in a sale as the free advertising streaming television business continues to grow. 

Paramount underwent a somewhat similar scenario 30 years ago when Viacom – who spun off from CBS in 1971 after the government ordered the Big 3 networks to divest its syndication properties, announced a merger with the studio but had to fend off a hostile bid from Barry Diller, who owned assets such as QVC at the time.

Camden Yards, the home of the Baltimore Orioles.

Municipalities are now feeling the impact of cord-cutting as one city is recording a drop in tax revenues. 

According to the independent political news website Baltimore Banner, the city’s Department of Revenue recorded a $600,000 revenue deficit, blamed in part on the lower tax revenue haul from fewer cable TV subscriptions. According to the city’s budget director, the number of subscriptions fell 44 percent over the last three years, from 106,000 to fewer than 60,000 – a total of 24 percent of paying cable subscribers, with Baltimore now collecting five percent less on gross cable revenues. Baltimore saw a ten percent decline in franchise fees in the fiscal year ending in June. 

Comcast is the Baltimore area’s primary multiple system operator (MSO), and they also sell wired internet broadband. 

In addition to declining cable TV subscriptions, Baltimore is also losing population as it’s been for decades; the area is ranked as the 28th-largest DMA in the country according to Nielsen. Baltimore City’s average median income is $58,349, lower than the national average, and is 61 percent Black with the rest of the market 29 percent African-American and seven percent Latino. This comes as cord-cutters are turning to more vMVPD services including YouTubeTV and Hulu Plus Live TV, but where taxes are collected often varies by region. Some politicians on Capitol Hill are urging these services to be treated like cable TV companies for local TV stations to receive retransmission consent money.

In Chicago, cable TV subscriptions and streaming services (though this may not be the case in the future) are collected as part of the city’s amusement tax; it taxes nine percent of fees from “paid television programming”, according to the city’s website. Illinois has its own 6.25 percent cable TV tax; Cook County stopped collecting cable TV taxes in 2020. It is not known how much impact cord-cutting had on Chicago and its suburbs, but the Baltimore news isn’t a good omen – meaning tax increases may be in the future.

After getting ousted from its Showtime home, Premier Boxing Champions is moving its product entirely to streaming with a new Amazon Prime effective next year in a multi-year deal. 

“We are thrilled to join with Premier Boxing Champions to bring the best boxers in the world to Prime Video, and to give more fans than ever the chance to experience these must-see events,” said Marie Donoghue, who is  VP of U.S. sports content and partnerships for Amazon. “With live coverage of PBC action throughout the calendar year, Prime Video continues to bring viewers in the U.S. and around the world the best in sports.”

Prime Video is also distributing PBC’s PPV events; it’s available to purchase if viewers are Prime members or not. The deal features original content including weighs-in, behind-the-scenes material, and more. 

A new home for PBC was necessary after previous home Showtime announced it was shuttering its sports division and dropped boxing after nearly 40 years on the premium channel. 

PBC began in 2015 by promoter Al Heymon to raise the sport’s profile as it has vanished behind pay-per-view for the last two decades. An early deal was made by NBC, putting the sport back on broadcast television after a long absence. Other deals with CBS, Bounce, and ESPN followed, but those quietly ended as PBC signed an exclusive linear TV four-year deal with Fox, which expired last year and wasn’t renewed.


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