Details are scarce at the onset of the joint venture with Gray Television, Inc., which owns local television stations across the country.

There's no name, no price point for the on-demand streaming service and no specifics on content.
But, the country music-fueled channel continues a trend for Ryman Hospitality, which has been steadily expanding its entertainment division in recent years. The company helped create the television show "Nashville," launched a slate of new music venues and invested tens of millions of dollars in upgrades to its cornerstone facilities: the Ryman Auditorium and the Grand Ole Opry. 

CEO: Country fans are underserved 

Ryman is banking on the continued rise in popularity of country music and investing heavily in ways to lure tourists to Nashville and to export country music across the globe.

Although there aren't specifics on the content that will appear on the new channel, Ryman is sitting on a treasure trove of archived live performances. In "Nashville," Ryman showed the ability to create original content as well.

Ryman Hospitality Chairman and CEO Colin Reed has for years been steadfast in his assertion that an estimated 110 million country music fans are still relatively under-served for original content.

"For more than 93 years, the Grand Ole Opry has provided a platform for country music fans to discover and connect with its artists," Reed said. "This partnership with Gray is the next step in the continued evolution of our company's position as a country music discovery point for fans.
"Its distribution network closely aligns with our fan base and will allow us to quickly scale our delivery of existing and original artist-centered content to help reach the 110 million country music fans in the United States."

In an interview with The Tennessean, Reed called the new channel "the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle" for the company's strategic expansion of its entertainment offerings.

Ryman didn't disclose the capital investment to launch the network, but Reed said the greatest expense will be creating content in the coming years. The channel will have about 25 employees working out of its Nashville office.

Reed predicted the new channel will be "as big or bigger for Nashville" than the television show "Nashville."

"This brings to fruition years worth of research and investment, which included bringing on more music venues like the Ole Red brand, getting our retail line and offerings in order and now the digital content side," Reed said.

Between its growing roster of music venues and its deep archives of Opry performances, Ryman has been sitting on country music content it believes country fans want to consume. The challenge was finding the correct partner to share the content.

Expected launch date in 2020

Gray Television Inc. is a publicly traded company which owns or operates television stations in 93 markets. Gray's television stations cover about 24 percent of the households nationally.
The broadcast television channel is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2020. The on-demand streaming component will come after that.

"We have believed for some time that tremendous opportunity exists to bring differentiated entertainment offerings that celebrate country music to our audience base," said Gray President and Co-CEO Pat LaPlatney. "Opry Entertainment's unparalleled history in the country music industry combined with their special and enduring relationship with the artist community makes them a natural partner to help us deliver this premium content to our local communities."

Overseeing the content for the new channel will be Opry Entertainment President Scott Bailey, who started in the job last year. Bailey said there's a "gap" for where fans can go to watch "artist-centered" programming on television and mobile devices.

Bailey's background includes previous stops overseeing content for NASCAR and the PGA, in addition to overseeing operations for

"We believe there is significant opportunity to become the category leader in country lifestyle entertainment and to play an important role in delivering this content and experience," Bailey said.

Ryman leaders have pondered the concept of a delivery system for country music content for years and aggressively pursued the channel for about the last year. Bailey said Ryman is uniquely positioned to launch the channel because its deep vault of existing content and its relationships within the music industry to create new, original shows.

Bailey said the company tested a sizzle reel of nine potential shows and received immensely positive feed back on all of them from intensive focus group sessions spanning several months.
Between Ryman's access to content and Gray's large distribution network, the new channel has built-in advantages.

"You're talking about really three different kinds of programming," Bailey said. "The first is original content. Next would be historic, archival content — we have at least 6,000 hours of footage available already. And the last would be live (music) opportunities (at the music venues Ryman owns)."
Reed and Bailey downplayed the notion that the new channel will compete with CMT. Reed said Ryman is grateful to CMT, which partnered to air the final season of "Nashville" after the drama had been cancelled.

"Our research showed there is an immense appetite for more country content that is not being met," he said.

That is big news as mentioned in the article, Ryman Hospitality has a treasure chest full of both previously broadcast Grand Ole Opry shows, along with tapes of their in-house filming of the Opry, which have never been shown previously. They literally have thousands of hours of tape available for this new channel. What is also interesting is the return to television for the company. This is obviously a change of direction for the same company that closed Opryland and sold TNN. It is nice to see that Colin Reed continues to grow the Opry brand and Ryman Hospitality continues to broaden its impact in Nashville and in the world of country music.

Now to this week's Grand Ole Opry which will feature two pretty nice shows, highlighted a guest appearance by Wynonna and an appearance by Grand Ole Opry member Martina McBride on what will be a very busy weekend in Nashville with the NFL draft taking place, along with the Music City Marathon. Both events will be drawing huge crowds.

At the Opry this weekend, Grand Ole Opry members scheduled for both nights include John Conlee, Connie Smith and Mark Wills, each of whom will be hosting segments both nights. On Friday night that trio will be joined by Bobby Osborne, Ricky Skaggs and The Whites. Saturday night, it will be Jeannie Seely, Mike Snider, Jesse McReynolds and Martina McBride joining John, Connie and Mark.

Guesting both nights will be Jeanne Robertson, a fine story teller who has made several Opry appearances in the past. She will be joined on Friday night by Wynonna, who is scheduled to close out the night. Also appearing will be Lindsay Ell, T. Graham Brown and Steve Earle & The Dukes. Saturday night, along with Jeanne, will be Suzy Bogguss, Charles Esten and making his Opry debut, Matt Stell.

Friday April 26
7:00: John Conlee (host); Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top X-Press; Lindsay Ell
7:30: Ricky Skaggs (host); The Whites; T. Graham Brown
8:15: Connie Smith (host); Jeanne Robertson; Steve Earle & The Dukes
8:45: Mark Wills (host); Wynonna

Saturday April 27
7:00: Jeannie Seely (host); Mike Snider; Matt Stell
7:30: John Conlee (host); Jeanne Robertson; Suzy Bogguss
8:15: Connie Smith (host); Jesse McReynolds; Charles Esten; Opry Square Dancers
8:45: Mark Wills (host); Martina McBride

As mentioned, Mark Stell will be making his Grand Ole Opry debut.

Matt Stell, who is from Center Ridge, Arkansas, is a self-taught vocalist and guitar player. He is also an outstanding basketball player, who played at Drury University. After completing his undergraduate work, he was accepted into Harvard University's Extension School Pre-Med program. However, Matt decided to follow his dream and in 2014 he made the move to Nashville and signed a publishing deal with Wide Open Music and a record deal with Song Music Entertainment.