Forrest Lucas shows off some of the oil products, which led to his company s ownership of cable network MAVTV. He said buying the network was a way to ensure a place on TV. (Rachel Luna/Staff Photographer)
The Riverside County town of Corona, about an hour's drive southeast of Hollywood, isn't where you'd expect to find a thriving new media center.
But if you did, you wouldn't expect to find it sharing a building with an automotive additives plant, either.
But that's exactly what's going on with the cable network MAVTV. Purchased by powerhouse Lucas Oil in 2011, the growing HD-caster sends programming out from state-of-the-art digital suites while, not too many doors down, Lucas' lubricants and other products are mixed, bottled and shipped to the Western United States and Pacific Rim.
The network's new owner has steadily been adding original scripted programming and unique reality TV concepts to its core focus on motorsports coverage. "Angry Planet," a kind of extreme travel show, "Bid America," which goes all eBay on the "Antiques Roadshow" concept, and the animated "Crash Canyon" are just a taste of MAVTV's offerings.
"Our tagline is `American Real'," explained Robert E. Patison, president of the network and executive VP of Lucas Oil. "What we're targeting is the typical middle class, working American family that has an interest in action, adventure and an active lifestyle. We are a general content network that is suitable for family viewing; that's sports, motorsports, action and adventure movies, live musical performances.
"We have some exclusive reality shows, which are real people trying to accomplish real objectives; not thescripted, contrived reality but true reality focusing on real Americans and their daily lives," added Patison, who comes to his office at Lucas corporate headquarters in jeans and a casual patterned shirt.
That's not all that makes the Lucas Corona building feel like a hangout as much as a workplace. Some dozen dogs wander undisturbed around the warren of offices. The manufacturing floors - built in 1928 to squeeze lemon juice for Sunkist - accommodate automated and hand-operated machines, including the made-from-scrap, twin-tap device used to mix the first Lucas lubricants and oil stabilizers in 1989 (a newer, much larger and thoroughly modern plant in Corydon, Indiana produces larger amounts of Lucas oils, treatments, additives and what have you for the eastern half of the country and export north, south and across the Atlantic). About half of the 160 people in the building work for the media operations; about half of those began in the oil products operation.
Company founder and big boss Forrest Lucas' own West Coast office favors the dark wood and black leather furniture one might expect to reflect the tastes of a self- made entrepreneur. However, on a shelf behind his polished desk, Lucas gives pride of place to three-foot- tall statuettes of the Blues Brothers.
Since first formulating his 'secret sauce" out of discarded industrial lubricants he found in L.A. and starting Lucas Oil with his wife, Charlotte, in 1989, self-educated chemist Forrest Lucas has built his main business from nothing into one of the most recognized and trusted racing and consumer driving products makers in the country and, increasingly, the world.
The onetime trucking company operator promoted his goods the same way bigger and more-established oil corporations do: by sponsoring races, drivers and teams.
Now, the Lucas name is on dozens of races and other sporting events on land and water. And this year, the Super Bowl was held at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, an impressive facility that the company bought 20-year naming rights to in 2006 for $122 million.
"When they started with us, it was a relatively small company and small brand," noted Gary Darcy, senior vice-president of sales and marketing for the National Hot Rod Association, the world's largest auto racing organization and a Lucas Oil promotional partner. "Now, it's really a household name. I think that that accrues from Forrest's vision. He's a great guy, he's really down to earth and he really is a true American success story."
MAVTV is expected to factor significantly in future growth.
"Motorsports were a big part of the way we promoted our company," Lucas, 70, said over the phone from his home state of Indiana. "I told Bob that we had to figure out some way to own TV channels so that we could put our name in the background. Commercials weren't enough, they had to see us in the shows.
'so we had a chance to buy this little channel. We figured we could build it up and always have a place for us on television."
Launched in 2004 by a quartet of former Showtime executives, MavTV, as it was originally called (the Mav stood for maverick), was a guy-centric network - as well as motorsports programming provided by Lucas Oil's full service production company, which is producing 354 hours of original television for MAVTV and six other networks this year.
MAVTV (the uppercase MAV now stands for Movies, Action, Variety) runs six to seven hours of original programming, across a four time zone single feed. It's on every major cable and satellite carrier except Direct, Cox and AT&T, and can most easily be found on Dish Channel 361 in Southern California.
Patison said the station is in front of 48 million households, with foreign and online iterations in the works. He did not give ratings figures, but said:
"I can tell you our trend and our progression. Our ratings are five times stronger than what they were originally. As far as ratings, we're comparable to household reach with some of our popular shows as to what Speed was doing. We are on par with CBS Sports Network in regards to their market share on Sunday evening."
When Speed, the dedicated cable motorsports network, turns into the more ESPN-like Fox Sports 1 in August, MAVTV hopes to increase its already strong coverage of the field, like with its upcoming "Won & Done," a drag race show starring Rich Christensen.
"There's a long ways to go, but the network has turned around," Patison observed. "The distribution there domestic and internationally is everything we had hoped it would be. It's the platform for us to continue promoting Lucas Oil and all of our Lucas properties through this medium regardless of what transformations television takes on over the next couple of years."
And turn Corona into the new Hollywood?
"It works for us," Patison said with a laugh. "I know New York and L.A. and other places in the country are better known for entertainment and television. But we happen to be here, the resources are here and it's working quite well. As long as it suits our needs, we see no reason to relocate."