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The WB’s multiplexing plan

Apr 1, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The WB next season plans to multiplex at least five hours of its prime-time programs on its own network and the Turner cable networks, where it will ask advertisers to pay up to 85 percent of the initial unit prices for the second play.
Based on its first multiplexing experience this season of its hour-long series “Charmed,” The WB plans to multiplex at least two more of its prime-time series on consecutive nights at 10 p.m. (ET) on TNT. That would create a Monday-through-Wednesday block of repurposed WB programs, sources said. “Charmed” currently airs at 10 p.m. Tuesdays on TNT.
The WB also is considering “multiplexing,” as the network calls it, at least one or two of its prime-time programs on TBS, sources said.
Selection of series will be shaped by producers’ willingness to allow for and fairly price a second weekly broadcast of their series and consideration of whether their series soon will be headed for off-network syndication. “Charmed,” which is expected to be muitplexed again next season, begins off-network syndication on TNT next year.
Series being considered for the 10 p.m. TNT slots include the returning “Smallville” and the newly developed “The Lone Ranger,” sources said. “The Lone Ranger” is being developed by The WB’s new in-house Turner Television unit, which-unlike an outside studio-would be a participating party to freely setting the terms of a repurposing deal on any of the Turner cable networks.
On TBS, The WB could opt for a shared movie slot or for coupling one of its comedies, such as “Reba,” with off-network reruns of a popular series such as “Friends” next season, sources said.
To get “Reba” into a shared cable window, however, would be a long shot considering that it is produced by 20th Century Fox Television-a studio that is not actively developing programming at The WB after last year’s license-fee-renewal fight over “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Even getting The WB’s sister studio, Warner Bros. Televison, on the same page-to either repurpose “Gilmore Girls” or “Smallville”-has been problematic because the studios are usually concerned about multiple exposures on broadcast and cable burning out the highly lucrative back-end syndication sales of series. Warner Bros. TV, a defiantly independent group (which may have spurred The WB to create its own in-house Turner Television unit), made its only repurposing deal with ABC on “The Court.” In that deal, ABC and ABC Family Channel agreed to pay escalating license fees to protect some of the back-end value of the show.
WB executives are just now beginning to renegotiate renewal license fees for returning shows.
Negotiations will likely include repurposing on The WB network too. WB officials recently said they will multiplay at least two of their prime-time series in a new 5 p.m.-to-7 p.m. Sunday block next season. Candidates include returning series such as “Smallville,” “Gilmore Girls” and “Dawson’s Creek” and new series such as “Family Affair,” sources said.
However, some industry observers questioned whether The WB, which has struggled this season, has enough strong hour and half-hour series to fill all of the multiplexing time slots it would like to create.
No pricing parity
On the advertising side, generally speaking, The WB will be able to command higher costs-per-thousand prices on its own schedule than it can on TNT or TBS, where advertisers continue to reject pricing parity even though many cable programs garner competitive ratings and demographics.
The WB has said that in the case of the Sunday multiplays, it will separately sell, price and package the first and second weekly broadcasts of its series to advertisers. There will be no cumulative sale of ratings as there has been for “Charmed.”
“Charmed” has generated a combined season-to-date 3.5 household rating. It has averaged a 2.8 on The WB at 8 p.m. Thursdays and a 0.7 on TNT at 10 p.m. Tuesdays, according to Nielsen Media Research. The WB has struggled to get advertisers to pay an estimated 50 percent of the average cost per thousand that “Charmed” commands from its prime time run on The WB. Advertisers buy different back-to-back episodes of “Charmed” airing on The WB and on TNT within a week.
“Now there is six months of experience of delivering unduplicated audiences and extending the reach of advertiser spots. Those last points of reach are really hard points to get,” said Jamie Kellner, chairman of Turner Broadcasting system and The WB.
Mr. Kellner and other WB officials declined comment on their specific multiplex pricing or plans for next season, which still are being formulated.
It’s unclear how much support The WB will get from Madison Avenue for what would be a more aggressive next phase in multiplexing to offset the rising price of license fees. Advertiser support will depend on the availability of network ad inventory and the mood of the upfront, Mr. Kellner said.
In January, The WB aborted plans to multiplex a second series, “Smallville,” on TNT when advertisers balked at paying 55 percent of the series’ initial CPM pricing on the second TNT run.
“If you can’t make a return on it, then you shouldn’t do it,” Mr. Kellner told Electronic Media. “This is not going to be big money for anybody for a number of years. It needs to be developed as a business.”
WB officials told advertisers about their multiplexing pricing expectations during recent presentations of their prime-time fall series development. “We need 85 percent coverage on the second unit sale on cable to offset the additional license fees and other costs associated with the multiplexing,” said a WB official who asked not to be identified.
The WB pays an estimated $300,000 to $400,000 more than the $1.1 million per episode license fee for “Charmed” for the right to air the series a second time in the same week on TNT, sources said.
“The bid-ask gap [with advertisers] is 50 percent to 60 percent bid and it’s 85 percent ask. Somewhere in there is where we need to be,” Mr. Kellner said. “Over the next two years, you’ll see all the eyeballs attracted by one show, no matter where it appears, sold at one price. They should be looking at viewers, not platforms. The industry needs this to happen.”
Michael Freeman contributed to this report.