FOX II DASHING SYNDICATORS’ HIGH HOPES
Now that the dust is settling on news of the UPN-WB merger, it’s clear than that the initial shouts of joy from syndicators were a little premature.
Fox announced in New York this morning a primetime programming service for its abandoned UPN affiliates and for other stations facing life without a network this fall.The service, dubbed My Network TV, comprises two one-hour telenovelas Desire and Secrets , Monday through Friday, from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m, and an unidentified two-hour block on Saturday night. The network debuts on Sept. 5.
The new Fox “network” is not good news for syndicators. It will take up much of the time that syndicators had been hoping to fill when news of The CW first spread at NATPE last month. But even the initial euphoria was unwarranted, says Chuck Larsen, president of October Moon Television, a syndicator and a consultant to others.
“At NATPE, everyone was all excited,” Larsen says. “Everyone approached it like these stations were all going to go dark in primetime. But there isn’t a station in the country that doesn’t have 30 hours of programming sitting on the shelf.”
Time alone is going to limit what can happen between now and September. To be able to sell national advertising in a syndicated show, syndicators have to clear it across the entire country. Without knowing which stations are going to become CW affiliates and Fox participants, syndicators can’t start clearing programming. That’s a real hang-up.
“We looked at this whole thing and decided we weren’t going to worry about it for this fall,” Larsen says. “Starting this late, I think it’s going to be iffy.”
Larsen may be right. This fall may see stations trying all sorts of different things—double-runs, movies, library programming—just to keep the lights on. It will probably take until at least fall 2007 for things to shake out on the station side.
Nonetheless, Larsen and other syndicators see the reduction in full-blown broadcast networks from six to five as a positive development. The Fox service is only 12 hours a week, they point out. And some aren’t waiting to fill what programming vacuum there is.
New Line Television said last week it is bringing back the hour drama The Lost World. “All these stations have been calling us and asking for it,” says David Spiegelman, senior executive vice president of New Line’s domestic television distribution and marketing. “Based on that, we analyzed the marketplace and saw that there was enough interest to make bringing out the show again worth our while.”
New Line knows it has to hustle. “We’re very fortunate because we’re very entrepreneurial and can move quickly,” Spiegelman says. “We have to clear the entire country in the next seven months.”
By the way, news of Fox’s second primetime broadcast service is also probably dampening the good cheer at The CW. Fox’s presence gives The CW less leverage as it goes out to make deals with stations. The CW is seeking reverse compensation from affiliates as well as a commitment to air 30 hours per week of network programming. Both factors are giving many would-be affiliates pause.
“Giving up that much inventory each week would mean a 5% to 7% loss of revenue opportunities,” says one multiple station owner. “There’s no way I’m paying The CW anything. I can’t. There’s no scenario in which that would make sense to me.”
Executives at The CW, which needs to shore up affiliates in markets 30 through 100, may find that attitude to be more prevalent than they expected. Stations have a choice: go with The CW, go with Fox or remain independent. And, in some cases, independence may make the best financial sense. “I think in markets where you’ve got good operators, these guys could make a real go of it,” says Dave Hanna, president and general manager of Lockwood Broadcast Group.
Now that’s the kind of talk that syndicators like to hear.