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Extra spot solves ’24’ brouhaha for Fox affils

Aug 26, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Eight commercial spots were just the prescription to cure the “24” bug afflicting Fox affiliates, which were feeling out of sorts because of the network’s grand plans to relaunch “24” with a 24-hour FX marathon of the series’ 2001-02 season and a commercial-free season premiere (EM, Aug. 5).
The Fox affiliates board of governors and the network struck a deal last week that will:
* Give the local stations an eighth 30-second spot in each network run of “24,” essentially continuing the “24” repurposing deal struck for the series’ freshman season.
* Schedule the makeup spots for the commercial-free season debut Tuesday, Oct. 29, so that one of the spots will go to the affiliates in the Nov. 4 installment of the popular “Boston Public,” which gives the stations valuable extra time to sell on election eve. The seven other makeup spots will be positioned in “24,” one each week starting with the second week of the season.
* Give affiliate consent to repurposing “24” in prime time to facilitate the “24” marathon, beginning midnight Sunday, Sept. 1, and running through midnight Labor Day, Sept. 2, on Fox cable’s FX.
Repurposing of “24” in the prime-time hours of 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. was prohibited under the agreement made last year specifically for “24,” the unusually formatted series for which Fox and critics went to the mat but viewers didn’t.
Under that agreement, affiliates, which are normally allotted seven 30-second spots per hour of prime time, got an eighth spot in “24.”
Initially, the network had proposed to make up only seven spots for the commercial-free debut of the sophomore season, which will be sponsored by Ford for an undisclosed sum that Fox says will not add up to what the network or network-owned stations could have made selling the standard inventory.
The affiliates, who did not learn of the commercial-free plan until the network unveiled it to the Television Critics Association in July and were left feeling forced to negotiate after the fact, felt that any spots running after the debut would automatically be less valuable than spots in the much-promoted debut. By giving them a spot on election eve, Fox has made a gesture that acknowledges the question of “value differential.”
“There was give and take and flexibility on both sides,” said Fox Affiliate Board Chairman John Tupper, owner of KXND-TV in Bismarck and Minot, N.D. “I think it was a very healthy discourse between the network and the board.”
There had been vigorous discussion among members of the Fox affiliate family, some of which had suggested they might protest Fox’s initial offer by pre-empting the season premiere.
“There was some dissension among board members about how to handle this issue,” Mr. Tupper said. “It was not a unanimous vote.”
“We are very pleased that John Tupper and the board worked with us on this, and we are looking forward to a great season on `24,”’ a Fox spokesman said.
Mr. Tupper said the affiliates still are ambivalent about whether repurposing hurts or helps the local broadcasters. He said a study distributed recently by the National Association of Television Program Executives suggests that in viewers’ minds repurposing tends to increase the value of the cable network that offers the extra viewing opportunity and to decrease the value of the broadcaster that has the original window.
“There is no hard evidence as to which way that goes,” said Mr. Tupper, who is hoping that Fox is right that anything that promotes the series and increases buzz and viewership momentum eventually helps the affiliates that offer it in first run.