Tony Optican, head of programming at Media General, says both his company and the Fox Television Stations are working to figure out how to increase the distribution of the entertainment-news show despite the fact that Media General has no syndication sales apparatus set up to market the freshman syndie.
High Hopes For ‘Hollywood Today Live’
Media General is in the hunt for more stations and greater national coverage for its fledgling syndicated entertainment-news show Hollywood Today Live.
That’s the word from Tony Optican, head of programming at Media General, who says the company has been very pleased with the performance of Hollywood Today Live since its debut last September.
At the same time, however, the company has not yet committed itself to a second season, although Optican emphasized in an interview with TVNewsCheck that the two companies that currently have a stake in the show’s future — Media General and Fox Television Stations — are working under the assumption that the show will continue.
“The show has been off and running now for four-and-a-half months and we’re moving toward a commitment [on a second season],” says Optican, who nevertheless seemed to indicate that the show is at a midseason crossroads of sorts in its rookie season.
Getting more stations, and/or another station group, on board to expand the show’s coverage footprint would likely help in the decision-making process where a second season is concerned. “We know we want to expand the footprint of the show,” says Optican, who joined Media General last August after stints at Fox Broadcasting, Fremantle, Syfy and others. “We know we want to keep moving forward with the show.”
Hollywood Today Live is a live, one-hour strip based in Los Angeles and featuring entertainment news, celebrity interviews, gossip and lifestyle features. It is cleared only on Media General and Fox-owned stations — 44 in all — representing 50% of the United States. Produced principally by a production company owned by Media General — BiteSize TV — Hollywood Today Live is a prime example of how some of the larger TV station groups have taken original-program production into their own hands.
And while getting a daily one-hour show off the ground has its difficulties, the challenge of figuring out how to increase the distribution may be even greater, particularly when Media General has no syndication sales apparatus set up to market the show.
Optican said the effort to expand the clearances for the show begins with the Media General and Fox TV Stations that don’t yet air the show, but might be persuaded to add it to their schedules.
The second option for boosting the clearances is to find a third station-group partner, perhaps a company that might be considering producing a similar show on its own, but might find it more profitable just to invest in one that is already on, Optican says. “Getting a show off the ground is very difficult. I think for any group out there it’s good to be opportunistic and to look at what the other groups are doing, and asking if this is something that also could work for me.”
The third option would be to find a national syndicator willing to distribute the show. At present, there is no salesperson or group of salespeople assigned to market the show. The “sales” effort, such as it is, seems to consist of Optican himself fielding informal queries about the show.
“I haven’t really had to be a quasi-salesperson because the show is really speaking for itself,” Optican says. With only 50% national clearance, Hollywood Today Live does not qualify for national ratings. But Optican says the show has seen some ratings success in markets such as New York and Los Angeles. In New York, where it airs at noon weekdays on WNYW, the show has “doubled the time period performance from a year ago,” he says.
In Los Angeles, the show has seen time period increases of 50%, Optican said. In L.A., the show airs on Fox’s KTTV at 1 p.m. weekdays, and Fox’s MNT affiliate KCOP weeknights at 9.
By coincidence, TVNewsCheck’s phone interview with Optican took place on the day last week — Thursday — that Nexstar Broadcasting Group and Meredith Corp. faced off with dueling proposals in their continuing battle to combine forces with Media General.
Whichever company emerges as Media General’s partner in a merger, Optican says he’s confident that Media General’s efforts in original program production will continue. “Whatever the outcome, it’s going to be positive because ultimately we’re going to get bigger one way or the other. And when you get bigger, new opportunities always present themselves. Pretty much every station group out there is interested in original programming [and] I don’t see that abating anytime soon.”