Fox spots affiliates extra ad time

Jan 21, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Fox offered its affiliates unsold NFL inventory during the network’s wild card and divisional playoff weekends, providing affiliates were willing to share the wealth.
The deal gave stations the option to take three extra 30-second spots in Fox’s Saturday and Sunday NFL games on the weekends of Jan. 12 and 19. If the spots were sold locally, the network and station would split revenue 50-50. If the stations couldn’t sell the spots, they wouldn’t owe the network anything extra.
The majority of Fox affiliates are said to have participated.
The word from one small Southern station that jumped at the additional time is that “it sold easily.”
In other markets, reasons given for not participating varied. At another station in the region, the offer was described as “nice” but not must-have, since it didn’t include conference championship games on Jan. 27.
Some stations said the lead-time on the offer-conveyed to stations two days before the first games to which it applied-was too short. Some said they were happy having been able to sell out the normal allotment of local time in their NFL package and were now best served by focusing further down the sales road.
Some said they might have been more interested if the 50-50 split with the network applied only to the money made off the three extra spots. The network’s formula required that the stations average the prices of the hurriedly sold new spots with the local inventory sold earlier (and presumably at higher prices) and base the 50-50 split on that figure.
But a source close to the network, which would not comment on the plan, said participation over the two weekends will average far more than 70 percent of the affiliates and “everybody is going to be happy” with the results.
“Affiliates appreciate the opportunity to create some additional revenue,” said Cullie Tarleton, who is retiring as chairman of Fox’s affiliate board and from Bahakel Communications this month. That the network would hold onto the spots “until the last minute” is both unsurprising and another sign that the “economic situation out there” is still weak, he said.
ABC had offered a broader economy-driven revenue-sharing add-on to its affiliates at the beginning of the “Monday Night Football” season, when the network was unable to sell out its national inventory. The Football Participation Plan required that affiliates commit to taking three extra spots in each of nine regular-season games and a postseason doubleheader and to split revenue 50-50 with the network, even if the station couldn’t sell the spots.
For many ABC affiliates, especially those in smaller, nonfootball markets, it was too big a gamble.
Non-network sources said the participation was significant.
“We are happy with it, and we will evaluate it as we get into next season,” said John Rouse, ABC’s senior VP for affiliate relations.
The plan did not go without incident. As many as 20 stations, a few of them in large markets, filled some “MNF” spots for which they had not signed up-for reasons that ranged from confusion to traffic staffs operating on automatic pilot. Some stations caught the mistakes themselves and alerted the network. In other instances, the network flagged offending stations.
Affiliates said the network took a hard stand that if a station had used spots to which it was not entitled, it owed the network cash. Not a giveback of promo time or some other form of barter, but cash.
For stations only breaking even on “MNF,” whose regular-season ratings erosion was a dramatic 10 percent (compared with a 4 percent season-to-season loss on Fox and 3 percent on CBS), that represents a serious extra cost.
Beyond the FPP experience is the broader network-affiliate plan under which ABC transfers some of the cost of its NFL package to the local stations. That three-year plan expires at the end of the summer but is certain to be among the subjects broached at the ABC affiliate board meeting with network executives Jan. 24 and 25 in Burbank, Calif.
Also lurking: Details of the long-awaited ABC-ESPN-Turner Sports deal with the NBA, which became too pricey for NBC this season. ABC affiliates fear they’ll be dunned for that as well.
CBS, on the other hand, got near-unanimous approval from its affiliates for a two-year extension of the deal under which the affiliates shoulder some of the network’s NFL costs. Instead of getting affiliates’ permission to repurpose programming on a case-by-case basis, CBS, which has expressed little interest in repurposing, will limit the practice to five hours per week of prime time (two on CBS-controlled UPN, three on cable) and two hours per week of soaps (cable only).