NAB 2015

Fox Affils OK On Fall, Worried About Future

After getting a look at what the network plans for its fall schedule, the affiliates held a closed-door session without Fox officials, during which they discussed the apparently vexing issue of how to increase the leverage of the affiliate body in its dealings with Fox, particularly the terms Fox demands at affiliation-renewal time. And the closed-door session revealed a palpable undercurrent of worry about the future vitality of the network-affiliate relationship as alternative means of distributing network programming are developed — means such as on-line streaming scenarios in which broadcasters would play no role.

Fox affiliates appeared enthusiastic about the future of Fox network programming following a rousing presentation in which the affiliates got a look at the shows Fox is developing for this summer and next fall.

But behind closed doors, at a meeting without Fox network officials in attendance, the affiliates sounded a lot less certain of where they stand in Fox’s future plans.

The program presentation was the main thrust of Fox’s annual full-affiliate meeting held Tuesday in a hotel ballroom in Las Vegas during the NAB Show.

In the meeting, affiliate representatives heard from Dana Walden, co-chair (along with Gary Newman, who did not attend the meeting) of Fox Television Group since last July, and David Madden, president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting since last July as well. They also heard from Fox Sports President Eric Shanks, who ballyhooed Fox’s planned coverage later this year of golf’s U.S. Open and the Women’s Soccer World Cup — both coming to Fox for the first time.

Walden and Madden showed clips of the new comedies, dramas and unscripted shows under consideration for summer, but mostly for next season.

The comedies include a fantasy football comedy called Fantasy Life; a “comedy-horror” anthology series titled Scream Queens; and Grandpa, a family comedy starring John Stamos.

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The dramas are: Minority Report, adapted from the Steven Spielberg movie, and produced by him; an updated Frankenstein; Lucifer, a satanic drama from producer Jerry Bruckheimer; Autopsy, a police procedural; and Studio City, a primetime soap set, like Empire, in the recording industry, about the rise of a teen pop star and her family.

Fox’s unscripted shows in development include a show called Knock Knock, in which unsuspecting, but presumably deserving families, receive an opportunity to improve their lives.

Walden also talked up the upcoming return of The X Files to Fox. And she stated the network’s continued enthusiasm for its stalwart music-competition series American Idol. “We’d love nothing more than to bring the show back and do another year with the current panel [of judges],” she said, adding that negotiations are ongoing.

“We have bold and original scripted series that stand out from the crowd, live events and specials that drive circulation and offer strong promotional support, and quality aspirational unscripted shows that inspire and delight fans of all ages. It’s a new day at Fox Broadcasting,” Walden said, positioning the presentation and, in promising a “new day at Fox,” acknowledging and addressing affiliate complaints over the last several seasons about the woeful state of Fox’s primetime ratings (with the obvious, and hope-giving, exception of the new megahit Empire).

“We’re confident in our slate and our incredible team at Fox, whether in programming, affiliate marketing or distribution, this team has new focus, determination and dedication. Thanks again for your partnership and support,” she told the Fox affiliates.

But affiliates, while showing outward enthusiasm and support for Fox’s development slate, are privately worried about the continued strength of that partnership in the years to come.

In their closed-door session without Fox officials, affiliate representatives discussed the apparently vexing issue of how to increase the leverage of the affiliate body as a whole in its dealings with Fox, particularly when it comes to the terms Fox demands at affiliation-renewal time.

One tactic that came under consideration in Tuesday’s meeting was the possibility of holding another one-day “fly-in” meeting this summer in a centrally located city of station-group owners and group heads to formulate strategies for countering Fox’s demands.

Fox affiliates held such a meeting last July in Dallas, even though Fox officials were dead set against it, and communicated to the Affiliate Board that they felt that way.

Billed in the trade press as an “emergency” meeting, some Fox affiliates credit the meeting for presenting a show of force that was effective enough to get Fox to back off of limited-term demands it was making of stations whose affiliations were up for renewal.

After that meeting, some affiliates say, Fox “loosened up [its] limited term demands” and agreed to increase the length of affiliation terms in last year’s negotiations with some 50 affiliates.

An informal show of hands for or against arranging another such meeting this summer seemed to draw more yeas than nays. It was unclear, however, if the meeting will come to fruition — a logistical challenge more than a philosophical one that depends primarily on whether the participants can agree on a day that works for most, if not all, of their schedules. The idea remains under consideration.

But Tuesday’s closed-door session revealed a palpable undercurrent of worry about the future vitality of the network-affiliate relationship as alternative means of distributing network programming are developed — means such as on-line streaming scenarios in which broadcasters would play no role.

The affiliate representatives at the meeting were even asked if they believe that the Fox network, and the other networks too, are already talking about going into the future without local broadcast affiliates attached to them.

The results of another informal show-of-hands poll on that issue could not be learned conclusively.

Read TVNewscheck’s other NAB Show management coverage here. Find our full convention coverage here.


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