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Game time for nets, affiliates

May 12, 2003  •  Post A Comment

Advertisers won’t be getting network executives’ undivided attention during this upfront week. Hundreds of affiliates will be in town to preview the 2003-04 lineups and to meet with network brass.
The formats of the affiliate meetings will vary from routine (the Fox and recently reconfigured UPN affiliates advisory boards) to large-scale (ABC and The WB). NBC has no meeting scheduled because it held its annual all-affiliates convention in mid-April. CBS has no meeting scheduled because it will hold its traditional affiliates blowout May 28-29 in Las Vegas.
Topics will range from new shows for fall to the 2010 Summer Olympics and 2012 Winter Olympics, the first up for grabs for U.S. broadcasters since 1995, when NBC spent more than $4 billion to lock up the Olympics through the 2008 Beijing Games.
Deals Set to Expire
There’s also an undercurrent of concern among affiliates, who know that most major affiliation agreements expire before 2010. Many fear that the network that wins the Games also gains a significant amount of leverage in its affiliation negotiations.
Also expected: some affiliate-to-affiliate fund raising to defray the cost of pending filing by the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance in opposition to raising the cap on reach of stations owned by the networks. “This is not a cheap battle,” said one station-group executive.
Mostly, though, the affiliates come to town hoping to be bowled over by the new lineups and the networks’ plans to maximize their success. “A hit or two would make a big difference,” is the mantra among UPN affiliates, who hope the first full development cycle by UPN Entertainment President Dawn Ostroff lives up to upbeat advance billing.
“I think there’s a much stronger feeling,” said Richard Jones, general manager of Entrevision’s XUPN-TV in San Diego.
UPN affiliates Chairman and Lockwood Broadcasting President Dave Hanna will preside over the first full gathering of the advisory board, which has recently been trimmed from 10 members to eight and now includes a representative of the Fox-owned UPN affiliates: Jim Clayton, general manager of the WNYW-TV/WWOR-TV duopoly in New York.
“We think it gives us a pretty fair cross-section of our affiliate base,” said Mr. Hanna, who added that the gathering after the UPN upfront will concern “some simple housekeeping chores.”
More than 300 ABC affiliate representatives will be in town to attend the network’s upfront Tuesday and an affiliates convention that will be the last presided over by Cox Broadcasting executive Bruce Baker, who is expected to pass the chairman’s gavel to Young Broadcasting Executive VP Deb McDermott.
Mr. Baker said that ABC affiliates will come into town looking for improvements in the network’s lead-ins to their late local newscasts, still feeling that “it is not going well right now” with ABC News, and hoping to hear that things are looking up for SoapNet, the soap opera-oriented cable network in which they have a financial interest.
John Rouse, ABC’s senior VP for affiliate relations, chose his words carefully and spoke generally on the question of the Olympics. “The Olympics thing is something I think several networks would be looking at,” he said. Both the networks and their affiliates “need to understand the value of them to each other.”
He promised a full slate of executive presentations at a Wednesday morning session, as well as an update on SoapNet distribution, and said that ABC News President David Westin would, as always, be “very open with the affiliates.”
CBS affiliates advisory board Chairman and Schurz Communications executive Bob Lee said his board will “encourage the network to be prepared to discuss the Olympics” at the CBS affiliates convention in Las Vegas.
“I think Viacom is well-positioned to be able to package up CBS and UPN and its cable networks,” Mr. Lee said. “I think the affiliates would buy in enthusiastically if the plan is right.”
On a less optimistic note, The Early Show, in spite of CBS’s frequent reminders of how the show is improving its performance, “will have its perennial position on the `I’m not happy list,”’ he said.
All The WB’s affiliates are invited to attend its upfront Wednesday and to spend the rest of the day having lunch, receiving (from Friday night star Reba McEntire) Froggie awards recognizing performance by local stations in various categories and hearing WB executives’ views of the future.
Wednesday night, they party.