By improving promotion and tweaking programming, MNT believes it can achieve its modest ratings goals and become a winner. Meanwhile, affiliates keep the faith.
No doubt. Fox’s new My Network TV has a way to go, but not as far as people may think.
In the week ended Nov. 6, MNT’s two telenovelas, Desire and Fashion House, each turned in a 0.7 among households and a 0.4 among adults 18-49, according to Nielsen’s NTI ratings. Among the established networks, those numbers would spell disaster.
But MNT’s economic model is based on entirely different expectations.
All MNT needs to do to turn a profit, which is its only goal, is achieve a 2.0 in households and, more important, a 1.3 or 1.4 among adults, predominantly women, in the 18-to-49 demographic.
“Our threshhold for success is just lower,” says Bob Cook, president and COO of Twentieth Television, which produces MNT’s telenovela programming.
My Network TV is building its network on an economic model that closely resembles what’s happening in syndication. Instead of placing big bets and hoping to win the jackpot, syndicators are making small ones with clear and limited budgets.
The goal is to produce high-quality shows that can still turn a profit, even if the show’s ratings never clear a 1.0 among key female demographics. That explains why low-rated shows such as Warner Bros.’ Tyra Banks and NBCU’s Martha keep getting renewed even though neither show earns higher than a 1.5 household rating.
That’s the model MNT is taking into primetime. Its telenovelas cost about $200,000 per episode, more than ten times less than what it costs to produce a standard primetime drama. And Fox has smartly given stations highly favorable deals—nine minutes of local ad time to the network’s five minutes—and no reverse compensation.
Still, MNT has work to do. The network cannot survive with household ratings under a 1.0.
While MNT is doing relatively well in some markets, such as Miami and San Francisco, it’s struggling mightily in others, such as Sacramento, Calif., where tune-in is practically nil. At those levels, MNT is being forced to sell ads at cut-rate prices—less than $10,000 per 30-second spot in some cases—and even give time away to favored advertisers.
Promotion is, of course, one key to boosting viewership. Cooks says that only 20 percent of the country is even aware that MNT exists. With many stations having changed affiliations this year, Cook says, “we know that there’s a confusion factor there and a lack of awareness.”
Look for the big cross-promotion with Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart’s line of Metro 7 clothes will appear in MNT’s next telenovela, Watch Over Me, which premieres next Wednesday (Dec. 6), and Wal-Mart will promote the program in its 1,500 stores nationwide and in the print ads it runs in Vogue and other fashion magazines. Metro 7 spokeswoman, Miss Universe 1993 Dayanara Torres, is one of the stars of Watch Over Me.
MNT also is keeping in touch with its viewers in an effort to improve the appeal of the telenovelas, each of which runs for 13 straight weeks. Through focus groups and at-home research, it has learned some lessons. For instance, there’s no need to spend time and money on establishing shots. Viewers would rather spend that time with characters and story.
Also, MNT’s producers first thought it would be best to keep the plots simple, but they are learning that American viewers like a little complexity. And while the network has worked hard to stay from all things racy, and keep the FCC off its back, some believe the shows could actually push the limits a little.
“They haven’t had content problems, which was initially a concern for a lot of our clients, but now I know that advertisers think they erred on the side of caution and maybe the shows are a little too tame,” says Scott Haugenes, senior vice president of national broadcast at Initiative.
It remains to be seen if primetime viewers will ever be willing to stick with serials that run five nights a week. MMT is doing its best to give viewers opportunities to stay up to date, but even the broadcast networks’ biggest serialized shows are having trouble hanging on to viewers in a primetime schedule that is full to overflowing with serials dramas.
So far, the affiliates are keeping the faith, expressing confidence that MNT can build its audience through promotion and by tweaking the programming.
“We have an excellent partner here with Fox,” says Mark Antonitis, president and general manager of Young-owned KRON San Francisco, one of MNT’s most successful affiliates. “They know what they are doing and they are determined to win at we are performing at a level that we anticipated.”
“Fox has such a huge vested interest in this,” says Eric Lassberg, general manager and president of LIN-owned KXAN Austin, Texas. KXAN is one of the few stations in the country that airs both CW and MNT programming, with The CW airing from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and MNT airing from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. “If we are disappointed in the ratings, you know they are much more disappointed in them and are going to do something about it.”