Built on just two shows in an unproven genre, My Network TV could quickly disappear in the ratings.
When we launched TVNewsCheck a month ago, we thought we would be living in interesting broadcasting times. We had no idea how interesting. On just our second day of operation—Jan. 24—news swept through the industry that The WB and UPN were merging into one, The CW. While syndicators celebrated at NATPE (prematurely it turns out), affiliates of the two networks scrambled. If they could not be a CW affiliate, what would they be?
Rushing in to fill the primetime vacuum last week was Fox. It unveiled My Network TV, essentially two English-language telenovelas from News Corp. sibling Twentieth Television aired back-to-back between 8 and 10. Fox said the network would reach 24% of the country via 10 of its major-market stations, including the nine orphaned by the merger. It immediately began the hunt for affiliates in other markets with the goal of 90% coverage at launch on Sept. 5.
In many markets, it will be competing for the best stations with The CW, a more conventional, but far more costly network. The CW will offer the best of UPN and The WB and other big-budget programs of the sort that has come to define a broadcast network. But it wants reverse compensation from affiliates and it’s being a lot stingier when it comes to sharing the ad time.
It’s a tough call for stations.”If you were to get the same ratings for the CW that you’d get for the Fox network, you’d say: ‘Hey, I’ll take nine over three [minutes of ad inventory] any day,'” Acme’s Tom Allen told Media Daily News. “But if you get two or three times the ratings from CW than what you’ll get out of Fox, then it’s not such a no-brainer.”
My Network TV is an all-or-nothing strategy. Fox is hanging its entire network on just two shows in a genre untested among English speakers in the U.S. The telenovelas tell their stories in episodes aired every night over 13 weeks. If they fail to get traction in the early going, they could quickly disappear in the ratings. Fox II might find itself looking up at i. (If you don’t know what i is, then I’ve made my point.)
The name of the network—My Network TV—suggests that Fox wants to make the connection with the young folks who flirt on News Corp.’s community Web site, MySpace. But telenovelas are soap operas. What’s the crossover appeal?
The venture may be hubris on the part of the new Fox station chief Roger Ailes. Having sold Richard Nixon to America and sped past CNN, he might feel he can do anything. Having escaped the Civil War without a scratch, Custer had that same feeling.
But who knows? There’s a lot of interest in telenovelas, even among the Big Three. They have turned Univision into a $10 billion (at least) company. Two days after the merger announcement, LIN TV CEO Gary Chapman accurately predicted that Fox would build a network around telenovelas from Twentieth. And he told reporters there that he liked the idea: “Almost every nation of the world uses this program genre except America.”
Was Chapman’s enthusiasm for the telenovela genuine or was he just trying to get some leverage with The CW? We’ll find out real soon.
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