Networks, affils happy with meetings

Jan 27, 2003  •  Post A Comment

As chairman of the National Association of Television Program Executives, Tony Vinciquerra urged networks to use last week’s conference in New Orleans as an occasion to meet with their affiliates.
As president and CEO of Fox Networks Group, Mr. Vinciquerra staged two meetings for Fox affiliates, one with the affiliate body’s advisory board and the other a series of sessions focused on being smart station executives.
Attendees at the Fox meetings reported that the talks were candid and helpful, as would their counterparts at UPN, CBS and NBC affiliate board meetings. ABC opted to meet in Los Angeles at a later date with its affiliates’ advisory board.
Among the topics discussed was the possibility that Fox Broadcasting might double-pump “Joe Millionaire” with 8 p.m. Thursday repeats of the Monday night originals through the February sweeps, an idea that appealed to Fox affiliates.
The Jan. 16 “Joe Millionaire” repeat registered an 8 share, up from the 5 and 6 shares the network has been seeing in the 8 o’clock hour, Mr. Vinciquerra said.
John Tupper, chairman of the Fox affiliates board, said wryly that if Fox is going to insist on repurposing its programming, the “Joe Millionaire” ploy is preferable to what was done with “24.” Fox affiliates chafed at the network’s decision to repurpose “24,” Fox’s only recent hit drama, on FX cable channel.
Repurposing is expected to remain a touchy subject this spring as the board and the network work out a new agreement for sharing the cost of Fox’s NFL programming. Repurposing limits and tradeoffs are part of the Fox affiliates NFL agreement, which expires in June.
The New Orleans meeting, Mr. Vinciquerra and Mr. Tupper said, was focused mostly on what were described as operational issues and programming news. Among the issues: continuing support of local use of Fox’s “plug-in-and-play” graphics package that promotes brand identity and Fox’s commitment since November to telecast one fully produced major sports event per week in the wide-screen digital format that is supported by Philips.
The CBS and UPN advisory boards were upbeat after separate meetings and what was described as “frank discussions” with a team of CBS executives led by CBS chief Leslie Moonves last Monday in New Orleans.
How much good will does straight talk buy? The CBS affiliates didn’t scream “ouch” when the network said it plans to start four games on the March road to the Final Four of the NCAA basketball championship at 7 p.m. (ET) instead of 7:39, which means the local stations will lose a half-hour of prime access revenue.
“They said they needed the money,” said Bob Lee, the general manager of Schurz-owned WDBJ-TV in Roanoke, Va., and chairman of the CBS affiliate board.
Some of the local broadcasters have been unnerved by Viacom President Mel Karmazin’s tough talk about putting the brakes on the transition to HDTV if content-protection issues are not resolved. “He’s as serious as a heart attack,” they were informed Monday. So affiliates on the board were pleased to hear that “Late Show With David Letterman” will convert to high definition in September and that the network is aiming to offer at least one NFL “A-game” per week in high def next season.
Dave Hannah, who’s with Lockwood Broadcasting and is the UPN affiliate chairman, declared the UPN session “the single-best meeting” of his association with the perpetually challenged netlet, which became part of Mr. Moonves’ domain last year.
Board member Richard Jones, general manager of Entrevision’s XUPN-TV in San Diego, was “really pleased” that Mr. Moonves’ team answered all the big questions before they were raised by UPN affiliates, for which this has been a particularly tough season.
NBC has agreed there is a limit to “Fear Factor” promos and it was breached earlier this month by spots featuring contestants eating horse rectum.
After a long working meeting between NBC affiliate board members and top network executives, board Chairman and Gannett Television executive Roger Ogden said, “There is a better process in place” to ensure there is no repeat of such an offense, which one board member noted was exacerbated by the spot’s appearance in Saturday morning programming aimed at children.
“We did hear [the nondelicacy] was USDA,” Mr. Ogden said.
The joke summed up the noncombative mood after the meeting at which the focus was on laying a broad base for the affiliates to benefit from the network’s growing footprint.
Mr. Ogden said the affiliates will name a futures committee that will seek ways in which the group can have “a more meaningful” relationship with Telemundo and more participation in Pax TV and Bravo.