Co-op fades in Olympic shadow

Nov 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Affiliates of ABC and Fox have lost promotional ammunition with which to face the big guns of NBC’s Winter Olympics during the February sweeps.
The ABC and Fox networks recently notified their affiliates that during the winter sweeps period, there will be no co-op programs under which networks and local stations split the cost of off-air promotion.
Networks’ co-op levels vary greatly from affiliate to affiliate, depending on the size and competitiveness of a market. But in a major Eastern market, it could amount to as much as $50,000 or $60,000. A station that easily dominates a less competitive market might in effect be penalized by getting very little co-op money. For a station in a market that is both very competitive and very important to a network, the co-op could add up to six figures, an amount the station would then match.
Fox affiliates are not without a major sports event in February. The Super Bowl was pushed back to Feb. 3 after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. But the Olympics, which are being held in Salt Lake City, are expected to dominate from the opening ceremonies on Feb. 8 through closing ceremonies on Feb. 24.
NBC has told its affiliates they can get co-op money for non-Olympics days in February, but the network is also suggesting that the local stations hold their co-op plans until May, which ranks with November as one of the most important sweeps periods to stations’ bottom lines.
“Because of budgetary reasons, we needed to look closely at co-op and found that many stations were facing the same constraints,” ABC said in a statement. “During our discussions with our Affiliate Marketing Advisory Board, we came to the mutual decision that we could focus our potential co-op spending during the May sweeps, since affiliates live with this book for a longer amount of time [up until the November book].”
Fox, which cited a lack of interest by a number of cash-strapped stations as the primary reason for no co-op in February, has indicated to stations that it will offer co-op funds for the May sweeps at levels comparable to May 2001, said Cullie Tarleton, the Bahakel Communications executive who is the outgoing head of Fox’s affiliate board.
A spokesman for The WB said that network’s co-op spending levels in February will be “typical” for Olympics months. A spokesman for UPN was unable to say what his network is doing.
CBS is scheduled to huddle with affiliate representatives in January to discuss promotion plans. There has been no further indication of what the network has in mind to tout its alternatives to 17 days and nights of Olympics programming.
“The participation level with the CBS stations is very good,” said Doreen Wade, VP and general manager of Freedom Communications-owned CBS affiliate WPEC-TV in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“The more you promote, the better your ratings are,” Ms. Wade said.
Although ABC, like the other networks, has not detailed February programming plans yet, its decision on co-op funds in February “sounds like a reasonable strategy to me,” said Bruce Baker, executive VP of Cox Broadcasting and head of ABC’s affiliate board.
However, the general manager of a Western affiliate station said, “I’m sorry to see that ABC did that. Although the network would deny conceding February, that’s exactly what they’re doing.”
“You’re not going to fight for victory against the Olympics,” said one executive at a network that will be competing with the Salt Lake City Games.
“We don’t lay down,” said an executive at an ABC affiliate in the Central time zone. “We’ll play to win.”