Editorial: Stations face the `R-word’

Jul 30, 2001  •  Post A Comment

With Disney buying the Fox Family Channel and CBS boss Les Moonves hinting last week that his network may soon get serious about finding secondary cable windows for its series, the buzzword du jour in the TV industry is “repurposing.”
Pinched by rising programming costs and falling advertising prices, the nets are scrambling to squeeze a few more pennies out of each series. One way to do that is to spread the shows among the various broadcast and cable outlets that are a part of each network’s growing corporate family.
Thus, for example, episodes of “Once and Again” run first on ABC and then, later that same week, on the Lifetime cable network. NBC has a similar arrangement with its hit “Law & Order: SVU,” which is shared by the NBC stations and the USA Network.
Predictably, the network affiliates are less than thrilled to have to share their franchise shows, and they are squirming at the prospect that these repurposing arrangements will proliferate in the near future. But the practice, driven by media consolidation and simple economics, is here to stay.
A given in Disney’s acquisition of Fox Family is the fact that Disney plans to run ABC children’s programming on its new cable channel, to be renamed ABC Family. And CBS’s Mr. Moonves has called repurposing “the wave of the future.”
From the affiliates’ point of view, that vision of the future is a discouraging one. Network relations are already strained, with battle lines drawn over compensation and pre-emption-never mind the rancor stirred up by the stations’ petition for a federal probe into alleged network abuses. Repurposing is just one more sticky issue to add to a pile of sticky issues.
But the affiliates still control their own destiny. A station with a strong local identity and a good reputation in its community has a lot going for it-far more than just network programming.
As always, an affiliate that does its job well, keeps on top of local issues and produces solid original programming holds a position of power, both in its marketplace and in its negotiations with the network.
Those stations that best meet the needs of their local communities will be the ones with the best chance of successfully weathering the impact of repurposing.