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Ex-movie maker returns to Jackson with plan for Internet TV network

Charlotte Reeves

Charlotte Reeves

By JACK WEATHERLY 

Bob Schnitzer made a thriller film called “The Premonition” in Jackson in the mid-70s.

Now he has returned to the capital, the scene of the movie intended to horrify, to set up an Internet streaming network whose intent is to heal.

“Holistic” is the term Schnitzer uses for OTV, live and on-demand, which will emphasize “personal growth, alternative health and healing, visionary art, world peace and environmental sustainability.”

In Jackson?

“Certainly, Jackson is a curious place for it,” said Brad Schultz, who teaches television reporting and documentary making at Ole Miss.

Schnitzer gets it.

“A lot of people, a lot of short-sighted people, have said to me, ‘How can you do a holistic, natural-health programming service out of Mississippi, which is No. 1 in obesity and so forth?’ Every cell in my body tells me that’s turning around. Yoga studios are opening up all over the place, Whole Foods [has come] into town.”  Also, the state’s fertile soil and ample rainfall lead him to believe that “Mississippi is going to flourish” in producing organic, non-genetically modified food.

“We’re not targeting people in Mississippi, but it’s natural that when an international television service . . . is originating in their home state they will tune in at least to check it out,” Schnitzer said.

Schultz said in a telephone interview that “I don’t doubt that [the concept] could succeed.  There’s all kinds of niche programs and channels that are doing fairly well.”

Yet he said he thinks that “it’s going to be hard for them initially. People are so used to getting stuff off the Internet for free, or somewhat free. If he’s got some kind of programing that only he has . . . is that worth [it]? The market is going to have to decide that.”

The initial round of investment through crowd funding for Elation Media, the holding company, began Wednesday, with the goal of raising within 90 days $3 million from sale of $25,000 increments  to accredited investors — those with a net worth of at least $1 million.

Revenue from sources that include sales of ads, syndication, subscriptions, live events, pay-per-view should make the venture cash positive after 14 months, he said.

“We are the first venture to crowd fund out of Mississippi,” he continued. Crowd funding is raising money through the Internet.

Though the timing might suggest that he will be using the state’s new “Invest Mississippi” crowd-funding platform created by and recently announced by Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, that’s not the case

Invest Mississippi has a $1 million per year limit for a business from residents of the state and those who aren’t, Schnitzer observed. The limit is $2 million per year per business if investors are Mississippians only.

Neither state option is enough and available as quickly as he would like, said Schnitzer, who plans to have the network up and running by the end of the year.

He has leased 6,000 square feet formerly occupied by the city’s governmental access channel at One Jackson Place, for the headquarters.

Hiring Mississippians will be the priority, starting with chief operating officer, said Schnitzer, who is chief executive officer.

The plan is to hire 10 employees and 10 contractors in the first year, then 25 employees and that many contractors in five years, he said.

As for chairman, that’s taken care of.

After a “six-month courtship,” Gerald “Jerry” Levin, former chairman and chief executive of Time Warner and founder of HBO, agreed to take the top board position with Elation Media, the holding company for OTV Live and OTV on Demand, Schnitzer said. The “O” stands for Oasis, he explained.

“We both share a passion for the holistic lifestyle and the body-mind genre of media.”

And the men each had a good experience in Jackson. “When I was making ‘The Premonition,’ he was in Jackson when he was creating HBO [and sold it to] the first cable system to carry it. So Jerry was all for Jackson.”

Time Warner owns Turner Broadcasting, which Schnitzer says is an inspiration to him.

“I would like to do for Jackson what Ted Turner did for Atlanta,” Schnitzer said at his north Jackson residence. “I believe Jackson is primed for becoming a new media hub.”

A native New Yorker, Schnitzer studied film at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and eventually made “The Premonition,” then moved to Los Angeles.

After a couple of decades in L.A. in media management, he wanted a change of scenery and a new life. After looking hard at Woodstock, N.Y., he decided the winter would make it a challenge at times for his employees to get to work.

So he looked south. He narrowed his choices to Asheville, N.C. and Citrus County, Fla.

Then the Mississippi International Film Festival invited him to Jackson in October 2013 for a showing of the movie — which is seen as a minor cult classic by some — and asked him to make comments about the making of it.

There he met Monte and Charlotte Reeves, who persuaded him to consider the capital as a home for the new business.

Subsequently, he and Levin formed a corporation in Nevada. Then Schnitzer formed a board with Charlotte Reeves as a member, along with Joyce Caracci, who with her husband, Victor, founded Sta-Home.

Reeves, a two-time Jackson mayoral candidate, and her husband own A-1 Pallets recycling center.

Schnitzer said that the vision for OTV could transcend the nation and other English-speaking countries.

He said that “we are negotiating” with venture capitalists from Shanghai and Hong Kong to take the network to that part of the globe.

OTV Asia, as it would be called, would be dubbed into Chinese.

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