While MyNetworkTV’s move to a programming service this season has produced uneven ratings, its costs have been reduced. In addition, this new model — where third-party distributors air off-net programs and share ad inventory with affiliates — is working for the stations. They’re getting getting more ad time to sell than they did last year and are finding that advertisers are willing to pay more for familiar shows.
MyNetworkTV had a couple of fairly straightforward objectives when it re-launched as a programming service on Sept. 28: reduce costs for parent company News Corp. and help its stations boost viewership and ad revenue by lining up well-known shows.
MNT seems to be meeting those objectives. A few weeks into the new season, MNT has reduced costs and station managers say they’re getting more money for the increased number of spots.
But the ratings haven’t been great — up for some stations and down for others.
Ratings in the top five markets underscore the uneven performance.
Among 18-49s, WWOR New York is flat to last year with a 0.6 rating for Sept. 28-Nov. 13.
KCOP Los Angeles has a 0.4 rating, down 33 percent from the same time in 2008. WPWR Chicago is up 40 percent, to a 0.7 rating. WPHL Philadelphia is flat at a 1.0. KDFI Dallas is down 38 percent, to a 0.5.
WPHL is owned by Tribune; the other four are owned by News Corp.’s Fox Television Stations.
Nationally, MNT averaged a 0.5 adult 18-49 rating for Sept. 21-Nov. 1, flat to last season, according to an analysis of Nielsen ratings by media buying shop Magna.
By comparison, three of the major broadcast networks are down from last year. CBS is down 1 percent, to a 3.2 rating. ABC is down 8 percent, to a 3, and NBC is down 10 percent, to a 2.7, according to Nielsen.
Only Fox, with a big boost from the World Series, is up significantly. It’s the No. 1 network through Nov. 8 with a 3.7, up 23 percent from the same time last year.
The CW, which targets young women, has a 1.2 rating, slightly up.
Last season, as a network, MNT licensed shows and split the inventory with affiliates, keeping 7 minutes and giving 7 to the stations.
Now, as a programming service, it’s a venue where third-party distributors air their programs and share ad inventory with stations. The splits vary, but stations are getting more ad time to sell than they did last year.
Implementing the new strategy, MNT replaced original unscripted shows like Jail and Street Patrol with familiar off-network programs like NBC Universal’s Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Twentieth’s Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?
WWE Friday Night SmackDown, which is distributed by Twentieth, is the only show that returned to MNT’s lineup from last season.
Still, despite the so-so ratings, some MNT stations remain upbeat about the changeover from broadcast network to programming service.
“We have more minutes inside than you would with network programming, as well at the top and bottom of the hour,” says Diane Sutter, owner-manager of WZMY Boston.
“It’s improved greatly our [cost per points] because of the shows we’re selling. The salespeople can go to local advertisers with recognizable programming.”
MNT’s new programs are an easier sell, says Lisa McManus, program manager at Raycom Media’s WUAB Cleveland. “We’ve definitely had positive feedback from advertisers.”
“The programs we have on this season are programs that advertisers have watched and enjoyed,” says Carol Rueppel, general manager of Fox’s WFTC Minneapolis.
The stations get 7.5 minutes on Monday with Law & Order: CI and Wednesday with Twentieth’s The Unit. On Tuesdays, the stations get 8.5 minutes for 5th Grader and 7.5 for NBCU’s Deal or No Deal.
Thursdays and Fridays remain unchanged from last year. Stations get 7 for Thursday movies and 5 for SmackDown. Twentieth keeps 9 minutes in SmackDown, while producer WWE sells sponsorships.
“We’re in a different business than the networks,” explains Paul Franklin, executive vice president of MNT. “The distributors of the shows on MyNetworkTV are responsible for selling their ad time. NBC sells Law & Order: CI; Twentieth sells 5th Grader?; so on and so forth.”
News Corp. makes its money from its 10 Fox-owned MNT stations and from the ad revenue generated by its Twentieth distribution arm.
MNT continues to provide as much promotion for its 180 stations (up from 175 in 2006) as it did in the past, branding itself as a network.
“With the shows they’ve acquired for us, along with the MyNetworkTV branding, this is the strongest packaging we’ve had to date,” says WZMY’s Sutter.
“We continue to get promos from the network, which is important because all the local affiliates rebranded ourselves when we made the change [to MNT] three years ago.”
Meanwhile, MNT is no longer the financial drain on News Corp. that it was over its first three seasons.
That’s mostly due to the savings it’s realizing from ditching original programming.
In 2008, MNT spent $131 million on programming, according to research firm SNL Kagan.
“MyNetworkTV wasn’t profitable with their old model,” says Deana Myers, senior analyst at Kagan. “With this syndication-type model, it will be easier for them to become profitable.”
MNT debuted in fall 2006 with a lineup of original programming.
At first, that was Monday-to-Friday primetime soap operas. Then, in 2007, it switched to original unscripted shows like Jail and, in 2008, it added SmackDown, which had been airing on The CW.
Ratings were poor and many network TV buyers kept MNT off media buys.
With its new model, MNT finally feels it is on the right track.
“We don’t have the necessary resources [for original programs] that the more traditional networks have,” says MNT’s Franklin. “But, from a sales standpoint, having these new shows has helped the distributors and also our affiliates.”