Celeb show helps effort to make stations newsier, less reliant on off-network fare, and Fox has NBCU to thank.
Fox’s pick up last week of NBC Universal’s Access Hollywood in five markets is a first step in turning the Fox stations into local news-and-information centers.
“We are looking to add more first-run programming on the Fox station side as well as more news,” said Frank Cicha, senior vice president of programming for the Fox Television Stations. Cicha recently relocated to New York from Los Angeles to help stations Chairman Roger Ailes, CEO Jack Abernethy and President Dennis Swanson improve the performance of Fox’s station group.
Fox is picking up Access this fall in five markets—Dallas (DMA 7), Atlanta (9), Houston (10), Detroit (11), Minneapolis (15)—and promising to give the show better slots than it currently has, although it’s not saying just where, just yet.
The deal marks a subtle shift in the syndication firmament. Fox hasn’t bought a show for access or late-fringe that wasn’t produced by a News Corp.-owned company in years. And while the Fox stations do shell out money for shows such as CBS Paramount’s Judge Judy, they much prefer to shop in-house. But with station profits down, all broadcasters are getting the programming that best meets their needs, regardless of its source.
Fox has tried to develop its own successful entertainment or news magazine. In 2004, it launched the exceedingly expensive On Air with Ryan Seacrest—a live entertainment show staged at Los Angeles’ Hollywood and Highland (where the Kodak Theatre, home of the American Idol finale and the Oscars, is located). The show never caught on in the ratings, even though it featured lots of hot young stars, including Britney Spears and American Idol finalists. Last year, Fox tried to revive its once huge hit A Current Affair, an effort that quickly failed. Now it’s got Geraldo at Large, which premiered in October.
Thus far, Geraldo, cleared in 70% of the country, is performing more poorly than its Current Affair predecessor. In the week ending April 9, Geraldo averaged a 2.4 rating/5 share among its primary runs. That’s down 25% from the show’s average lead-in, which is usually news, and down 4% from the show, usually A Current Affair, that was in the slot a year ago. In New York and Los Angeles, the show is underperforming A Current Affair by some 20%, although in Atlanta, the show routinely posts 6-plus ratings in its prime access time slot. And it has been ticking up in the ratings since its premiere.
Fox is standing firmly behind the show. Word has it that Ailes & Co. love Geraldo as a talent, ratings or no.
That’s where Access Hollywood comes in. It’s not a hard-hitting news show per se, but it’s fun, fast, young and newsy. In markets where it goes head-to-head against CBS Paramount’s genre leader Entertainment Tonight—such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia—it beats or keeps pace with the entertainment news leader. And it provides a good news lead-in or lead-out so it could prove a good companion for Geraldo.
“I could see Access Hollywood paired up with Geraldo in Atlanta,” says Cicha, who won’t reveal precisely where the Fox stations will place the show for competitive reasons, although it’s expected to air in news adjacencies.
Acquiring Access Hollywood is “more about having first-run programming on these stations 52 weeks a year,” Cicha says. The dearth of off-net sitcoms, on which Fox has heavily relied in the past, is having its effect on the Fox stations.
Now is the time to turn the Fox stations into local powerhouses. They are blessed with the most highly-rated primetime among adults 18-34 and adults 18-49, right where advertisers want to be. And with the success of Fox News, the market is more than primed for more Fox-flavored news and information.
The deal makes sense for NBC, too. NBC long has been frustrated by Access Hollywood’s national ratings, which are significantly less than ET’s because ET, 15 years older than Access Hollywood, has stronger clearances in most markets with contracts that extend far into the future. It’s happy for the upgrades.
“We are in the business of complementing and enhancing Fox’s strategy right now,” says Sean O’Boyle, senior vice president and general sales manager of NBC Universal Domestic Television Distribution.
Make a note: That’s the first time anyone at NBC has expressed an interest in helping Fox.