No resolutions at ABC affils meet

Jul 15, 2002  •  Post A Comment

A daylong gathering of ABC executives and ABC affiliates in Chicago ended with both groups declaring the dialogue had been positive.
“It was a very beneficial day,” said Bruce Baker, the Cox Television executive VP who is chairman of the ABC affiliate board of governors, during a conference call late Wednesday.
No negotiations were conducted, so there was no resolution of issues-from exclusivity of ABC programming to the network’s insistence that it retain the right to demand that when an ABC-affiliated station is sold a new affiliation agreement must be negotiated. Nor was there resolution to the soon-to-expire NFL agreement under which affiliates contribute some $45 million annually to ABC to help ease the $550 million-a-year cost of its NFL contract.
One affiliate said the NFL issue cannot be resolved without resolution of the “relationship issues,” but he said “both sides are working to get it done.”
In a conference call after the meeting, ABC Television Network President Alex Wallau said the network will not be hobbled if a consensus is not reached by the end of the month on the NFL agreement, and that the network would like to get it resolved and move on.
On the question of exclusivity, Mr. Wallau cited such examples as NBC’s operation of MSNBC when he said, “We don’t think brand confusion is an issue” if ABC repurposes network programming on the ABC Family Channel, a prospect that has concerned affiliates. Assignment remains “a very important matter,” said Mr. Wallau, who said the network has the option and has “chosen to exercise it in some cases.”
Still, “There were no bombs,” said one affiliate who often is at odds with the network, but who described the day as productive. “If the spirit of cooperation remains we would hope that all issues would be resolved,” the affiliate said.
Mr. Wallau said the network was gratified by the turnout of more than 200 affiliates. “I think they were shocked,” said a station-group leader who hopes the network came away feeling that the affiliates can and want to be supportive partners and who said he appreciated the “candor” of the ABC executives who made the trip to Chicago.
Among the executives making presentations was ABC News President David Westin and freshman Entertainment President Susan Lyne. Prime time is, Mr. Wallau said, “the area of greatest need.”