NAB 2011

ABC Affils May Help Fund Olympics Bids

Helping the network land the 2014 and 2016 Games is part of the discussions the network's affils have in Las Vegas. Judging from the demeanor of board members as they left the two-hour closed-door meeting Sunday, whatever issues that exist between the network and affiliates don’t seem to be very contentious.

ABC affiliates might help the network pay for U.S. rights to telecast the 2014 Winter Olympic games and 2016 Summer Olympics, the head of the ABC board said after the board met on Sunday.

Disney-owned ESPN is expected to bid for the games in is expected be an expensive battle between networks that should be decided by the International Olympics Committee by mid-June.  ESPN recently said if it gets the games, sharing air time with ABC, it would show them in real time, and show repeats of major events in primetime.  

“It probably would be reasonable to think that you could see ABC and ESPN do something,” said Bill Hoffman, general manager of Cox’s WSB Atlanta, and chairman of the affiliates board. “NBC has shown they place a high value in being a player for the Olympics and I wouldn’t rule out Fox. You could make a case how it would be a good fit for all three.”

But it has recently become part of the playbook for networks to push affiliates to help pay for other big sports contracts like the ones they have with the NFL. Hoffman signaled the affiliate board might be open to some arrangement.

“It wouldn’t be unique for us to join with ABC to do something, because we’ve done that with Monday Night Football,” he said, but he gave no indication such a deal was imminent.

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Judging from the demeanor of other board members as they left the two-hour closed-door meeting Sunday, whatever issues that exist between the network and affiliates don’t seem to be very contentious.

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In fact, when John Rouse, the ABC vice president, met with the board, there were several big rounds of laughter heard from the other side of the thin walls of the Hilton hotel conference room.

Rouse said he filled in the board on ABC’s primetime plans for this fall and briefed them on the upfront overall. 

That’s in contrast particularly with Fox affiliates and their network, which are divided over sharing cable retransmission fees. The Fox board meets today, then gathers with the affiliates on Tuesday, and network officials are expected to attend one or both meetings.  

“I don’t know what all the other conversations are with the other [network] groups but I like where our relationship is,” Hoffman said. “I think they are entrepenurial. We’re trying to find win-win space and I also think we know when to take off our business hats — which are kind of defining on issues like retransmission — and work on other things and do things calmly.”

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“I’m a little bit apprised with what’s happening with Fox and its affiliates and it’s contentious. I guess that would be the right word. I think where we are with ABC is just a different place. We’re going to have natural friction points because the network’s going to want one way of life and we’re going to want different things, but when all is said and done, our life with ABC has been on the up and up. I think that’s a good thing.” 

NAB President Gordon Smith was invited to address the affiliate board and said as he left that he talked to them about cable retransmission rights issues but made it clear the NAB is not getting near the dispute between any network and its affiliates. 

“We didn’t get into that,” Smith said. “It’s important for the NAB not to be the arbiter but to allow business relations to sort themselves out.”

Hoffman said the network and affiliates have been pleased by an arrangement that allows the networks or affiliates to essentially swap unsold ad time to each other in some dayparts.

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“It is going really well,” Hoffman said.”We helped the press understand what it’s all about without giving out too much about what’s in the ‘super sauce,’ but we have found sweet spots where they’re buying inventory from us and we’re reversing that, and it’s turned out to be good. We’re both finding it to be profitable. There was valuable inventory that was exchanged.”

He said affiliates told Rouse they hoped ABC would push for more primetime comedies and improve its 10 p.m. shows that lead into affiliate newscasts. But generally, Hoffman said, the board is pleased with ABC’s position in primetime. 

“We both feel comfortable with where we are now,” he said. Our strong shows seem to have run-way left in them. We both — the affiliates and the network — have seen how sitcoms have come back and can be a valuable asset. We’d like to bolster our position at 10 o’clock because most of our best shows air from 8 to 10 and when we have good shows at 10 o’clock they deliver audience to the newscasts. The other thing is to have more and more shows that distinguish themselves with men [viewers] besides women.”


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