In Depth

Meidel: MyNet on Course for Upfront

Comedy, Movie Nights Planned for 2008-09

MyNetworkTV, bolstered by its agreement to bring big-time wrestling hit “Smackdown” to the network, is preparing for the upfront advertising market in May, buffing its slate with a comedy night and another movie night.

The sixth-placed broadcast network, which only a year ago was airing low-rated telenovela adaptations that prompted questions about its viability, has benefited from parent company Fox’s commitment to keeping the channel on the air.

In an interview with TelevisionWeek, MyNet President Greg Meidel said advertisers and audiences are responding. The programming changes have helped the network post growth in four consecutive sweeps ratings periods, Mr. Meidel said. The network’s average rating through February has risen 150 percent to a 0.5 among adults 18-49 in the last year, according to Nielsen Co.

MyNet is planning to move its “Magic” specials to Monday nights, following “Celebrity Expose.”
He’s turning Wednesday into comedy night with “Under One Roof” and “Funniest Moments.” “Smackdown” anchors Fridays, and a second movie night occupies Saturdays. If that schedule moves forward, series such as “Meet My Folks” and “Decision House” will likely be dropped.

He said that MyNet’s audience growth, amid declines at other networks, was pleasing the 175 MyNetwork affiliates. As MyNet moves forward into its third season, he hopes the continued growth of the channel’s 18-49 adult audience would continue to build. An edited transcript of the interview follows.

TVWeek: Well, let’s start with the basics, you’ve been there over a year now, and after overhauling the entire schedule, MyNetwork ratings are on the rise.
Mr. Meidel: We’ve had consistent audience growth for four sweeps in a row, so that’s good news. Our affiliates are also growing with us and doing better so that’s also a very positive note. What is very different even from The CW, is that we are a part of a major station group, so, what’s good for the network is also good for our own stations, including in the New York, L.A. and Chicago owned and operated, so we’re thrilled about that. And, you know, the gross February ‘07 to February ‘08 was really solid, we were up 60% in households; we were up 150% in adults 18-49. So we’re starting to get a large enough, sizable enough audience, that allows us now to start monetizing that better.

That’s why we’re looking forward to the upfront. But we’re working hard, we’ve got a long ways to go, and we are very focused on the future.

TVWeek: Well speaking of the upfront, what are the plans? And are advertisers taking notice of this growth?
Mr. Meidel: Well, the good news, our new executive vice president, sales, just started a week ago. Her name is Judy Kenney, and she’s a real veteran of the network sales world, both at Univision and at ABC. We’re thrilled to have her on board and it really allows us to tailor our needs and really work with the buyers as we go to the upfront. We look at this as a partnership: What can we do to serve them better? And in return we hope that we can monetize our success as we move forward.

TVWeek: You have Flavor Flav about to debut in your first scripted sitcom. Is that going to be something we’ll see more of in the upcoming season?
Mr. Meidel: It’s a big step forward for us to go into our first scripted project, but yes. We have to find the right personality and the right star, that creates a lot of buzz. We get sampling and at the same time give them good writing and produce a good show. And it’s going to be entertaining for our audience. I think that we will see that with “Under One Roof.”

…We’ve kind of seen every night grow a little bit. Monday night has been up. “Celebrity Exposé” keeps working one for us. You know, we’ve done really well with “Magic” and “Magic Secrets Revealed.” We look at “Street Patrol,” and “Jail,” John Langley’s show, is doing well. So Wednesday night is our next night that we’re really focused on to grow. So, about every two or three months now we’ve rolled out a new night and that worked well for us.

I think if we take it one or two shows at a time, it allows us to put enough time and attention and focus on our marketing and promotion of the show, versus coming out and doing, you know—all nights all the time. … We’ve got to get them on board, let them sample one night, two nights. And the more they watch, the more hopefully they’ll like it and they’ll stay with us, which they have so far.

TVWeek: Right. Now, can we expect a comedy block, come fall?
Mr. Meidel: You know, it could happen. I mean, we’re very encouraged by what we’ve seen and we’re looking forward to Wednesday night, so, I think we’d like to build that as a comedy block. So we’ve kind of maintained our genre branded nights. We’ve been focused on entertainment on Monday nights, Tuesday nights have been our crimetime night, and Wednesday nights we look at being focused on comedy like you just said. Then obviously we’re going to have our big blockbuster movies on Thursday and Saturdays.

It works well for us. That’s the franchise, and honestly, it’s the best way for us to counter-program the other networks.

… Of course, then we have the addition of the WWE. We can’t wait to get “Smackdown” on our air.

TVWeek: What does WWE bring to the table?
Mr. Meidel: Well, what it brings for us is that it really fits us like a glove. This is truly an opportunity for us to take a franchise that’s proven, that works, that attracts a large audience as the dominant force every Friday night, as it did prior to that on UPN. A lot of our affiliates, including most of our MyNetworkTV O&Os, were UPN affiliates. So they’re very aware and very knowledgeable of the strength of the brand and they have been involved and partnered with them in the past.

And there’s the fact that it’s targeted at the same audience that we go after. We go after adults 18-49, and we do have a slight advantage with men. So, it really fits us perfectly. So we see it not only as an immediate franchise for us on Fridays but also as a promotional platform to promote what’s coming up the following week.

TVWeek: Is that how you describe what makes up MyNetwork? Is that your target audience right there?
Mr. Meidel: Our target audience is adults 18-49. We are basically split between women and men. Our audience is 26% men 18-49, 25% women 18-49.
So we’re not too far to either side. It’s nice to have a little extra male appeal—you obviously go for your core audience of women 18-49, but we haven’t pushed the needle too far to the left or right. We’re not too young, and we’re very balanced and we’re not heavy on the 50 plus either.

TVWeek: Will MyNetwork be a player in other types of sports entertainment in the future?
Mr. Meidel: We look at all of these franchises. This is an entertainment show that involves sports, but what we loved about the WWE is that it’s a huge franchise, and it’s built-in brand recognition. We think it’ll help us continue to build out these other nights. If we were able to find some other franchise that is this big, we would be very interested. But there are very few out there, and very few become available, and that’s why we took advantage of this opportunity. I’ll say this sounds corny but this is our NFL.

TVWeek: MNTV asked affiliates to give up an extra two minutes of ad inventory for “Smackdown.” Have there been any problems with the revised ad split?
Mr. Meidel: No. When we went out with our proposal to recapture inventory it was for two reasons: to create development via better programming, and to market, promote, and brand the network more than we have in the past. So, we’re not acquiring or recapturing this inventory to reduce our losses or whatever, we’re recapturing this inventory to grow the network.
The benefits to us will be the result of higher ratings and higher revenues. Higher ratings and increased revenues, how about that?

TVWeek: Looking at your first year, what’s been a pleasant surprise for you, and what’s been a disappointment?
Mr. Meidel: I think we’re pleasantly surprised that, “Celebrity Exposé,” if we have the right star, has done well for us. I think another big plus has been “Jail,” which has really been a bona fide hit. We’re really pleased with some of the “Magic” specials that we have run. “Magic Secrets Revealed” has done really well for us.

TVWeek
: Has there been anything that has disappointed you at all?
Mr. Meidel: Well, we wish “The Academy” would have done better, but you know, we were fortunate enough that we were able to acquire “Street Patrol” again from John Langley, that has improved the time period by 50%.

I also think that we were disappointed in “Decision House.” I thought it has really well done, but I think that that’s the type of topic and relationships that are probably left better for early fringe or in the afternoons in the talk format.

TVWeek: With everyone except Fox and MyNetwork being down, how hard is it for a network to grow in this day and age?
Mr. Meidel: It is tough. Each network does a phenomenal job. This is a very tough business, and we’re the new kid on the block. It’s a lot of work. I mean, if you go through the list of successful shows this year versus those that didn’t make it, it’s a pretty short list.
I don’t think it’s going to get easier to launch shows. I think it’s going to get harder, so you really do have to have a multi-platform strategy on how you’re going to launch these shows. How do you market it? How do you get it out to the mass public that you have this hot new show coming on the air?

You’ve got to reach out to multiple platforms where you can promote. That would be online, or it could still go back to traditional radio, buying billboards, buying on-air, promoting on cable.
Now it’s about, ‘What is our launch strategy off-air versus the old days?’ How many spots am I going to get on the air and how many are promoted locally at the stations? So it’s above and beyond that.

You have to make sure you’re getting your talent on the morning shows, the late-night talk shows, and you want to be on urban radio, for example, to make sure that the public is aware that you’ve got this new show on the air. It’s hard to do. Because there are so many choices now, it’s not that easy. And it’s expensive.

The networks all have certain shows that are their signature shows that do really well, which is why the WWE is so important to us. Listen, all of these companies and networks are really well run. They invest heavily in programming. But maybe we’re going to change the business model a little bit. But it’s not all about just doing multiple pilots and deciding which one you like and putting it on the air. The percentage of success is probably as good or better just going straight to series as it is with a pilot.

That said, I think that we’re focused on making sure that we are listening to our advertisers to make sure that we’re developing shows that provide a safe, comfortable environment for them. Although we don’t do that on every show, sometimes we push the envelope. But the majority of the time our goal is to make sure we have a very user-friendly environment for our advertising clients. That’s number one for us.

That’s why we like scripted. There’s a comfort zone for the advertisers in scripted. You know, so we’re looking at both half-hour and hours now. And with our reality that we’re developing, we want to make sure that we bring the advertiser into the process early on so they can give us ideas on how we can do integrated sponsorships, and how we can have a multi-platform tie-ins between what we’re doing with our digital strategy and what we’re doing on the air.

But we sure want to generate viewership. You know? We’re still in the TV business and we want to make sure that we get as many viewers, as many eyeballs, to that set as possible. We look at our digital strategy to really help enhance and create value for our audience.

TVWeek: Are you a big believer in summer programming?
Mr. Meidel: Yes, absolutely. For anybody to walk into a meeting and say there’s six broadcast networks out there is dreaming. You have to look at the impact and the power of Univision or Telemundo. But you also have to look at the power of all these, you know, fantastic and huge machines in the cable networks.

We really compete like in a 100-channel universe, in terms of competing for product and viewership. So, I do look at it in the big picture. And because we’re the sixth network out there, we are competing with cable sometimes, for both product and with advertisers. But we’ve gone from the 31st network on television to the 14th network on television during this past February in adults 18-49 and prime time. That’s a big jump.

So, if we can continue to have that kind of momentum going forward, that will be good for us and it will be good for our affiliates.