At Justice Network, Doing Good Is Good for Business

By Steve Schiffman, Chief Executive Officer of Justice Network

Steve SchiffmanFor-profit or for-purpose?

While the answer to this question typically defines the strategic direction of an organization, the brief history of Justice Network (our crime and investigations broadcast diginet operating in 60+ million homes), proves that doing both is good for business.

In early 2014, I huddled with a group of investors and broadcast executives to outline a strategy for building a new network in the rapidly expanding over-the-air broadcast space. While most existing networks focused on black and white retro comedies, westerns or classic movies, the team knew we could create a network that aligned even better with viewer interests.

In my former role as the President of National Geographic, I knew our best performing shows weren’t always lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) – but rather, they were often crime-related, such as Alaska State Troopers, Border Wars, and Drugs Inc. Our executive team, with experience at Discovery, NBC, CBS and other networks were keenly aware of the same trend. Coupled with the news focus of our charter partner, TEGNA, it seemed that creating a crime and investigations network would be a perfect marriage.

But would a tricky government requirement slow the network’s development?

Per the Communications Act of 1934 – a document that still to this day defines the rules of engagement for broadcasters – spectrum is licensed to our broadcast partners under a requirement that they operate “in the public interest.” Though this clause could be viewed as an obstacle for our unabashedly for-profit entertainment network, experience told me that doing good for the community could be good for our business.

While at NatGeo, for instance, approximately 30% of our profit helped fund grants for NatGeo Explorers, an initiative that helps discover new parts of the natural world, which was a big hit with viewers and advertisers. Don’t just take my word for it; numerous studies illustrate the benefit of doing social good, such as a 2016 Havas Worldwide survey that found 80% of consumers believe companies should do good for their communities – and that social good plays a real role in their buying decisions.

justice missingWe knew we could make a compelling crime and mystery network – but we felt we had a responsibility to do something good for our communities too. Over the next several months we developed the blueprint for BeSafe, our network-wide public safety initiative. Each hour, Justice devotes :90 seconds to the initiative in three :30 segments – safety tips, local missing children, and local wanted fugitives – fronted by legendary crime-fighter, John Walsh, who enthusiastically joined on as part of the network when he learned of our do-good plans.  

Friends in the industry met the initiative with equal parts intrigue and skepticism. Sure, the segments would do good for the community, but could a for-profit television network really justify using :90 of inventory every hour for good?

Two-and-a-half years later, the network has proved us right. Since launching in January 2015, the network has helped apprehend more than 80 fugitives and helped reunite more than 60 children with their family, shattering our initial expectations. Viewers tell us they love our BeSafe effort: in surveys of more than 10,000 viewers, the safety segments are met with nearly 100% approval; roughly half tell us they’re more likely to watch the network specifically because of the BeSafe initiative.

Advertisers love it, too. Our affiliates have recently begun rolling out sponsored versions of the safety tips in their markets, with eager advertisers that range from legal help, car dealerships and even the local sheriff’s department – all wanting to be paired up with BeSafe’s stellar community impact. Later this year, we’ll be expanding the BeSafe initiative to feature heroic acts of law enforcement, fallen officers, and localized crime stats. We’re proud of the difference we’re making – for all of our stakeholders.

Could those :90 be used for more commercial inventory? Probably. But the rewards we reap for our partners, viewers and the communities we broadcast in, drive far more reward for our business in the long-term than can be measured on a balance sheet.

The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at [email protected].

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