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Cable, Broadcast Unite

Sep 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

It was a marriage of two unlikely partners.

When The WB’s Jamie Kellner first proposed the game plan in 1998 for a nationwide station group to distribute the channel in small and mid-range markets, the plan called for cable operators and broadcasters to actually work together.

Perish the thought.

“You know, even to this day, the relationship between broadcasters and cable companies is still a difficult relationship,” said Nory LeBrun, founder of Two Blue Rhino, a sales and marketing firm that works with both broadcasters and cable. “But this arrangement turned out to be so unique that every six months or so the cable operators have to be reminded of how it works.”

The WB Network prime-time programming and the syndicated programs that the station group has licensed are distributed via cable to receivers in 109 television markets around the country. The programming shows up on a cable channel position in each market. Although the content originates from Los Angeles, it is dressed up to look like a local station for each market. A broadcaster partner in the 100+ markets, usually a traditional network affiliate, often sells ad time for the WB affiliate, although the station group has its own sales staff. The traditional broadcast station promotes the WB channel, and in turn, promos for the broadcaster air on the WB outlet.

Unlike traditional cable programming networks, the cable operators that carry the WB stations pay no carriage fees. In fact, the cable operators and local broadcasters share with The WB in the local channel’s advertising revenue.

So how has it been working for the cable operators and broadcasters? The answer, on the whole, is pretty darn well.

“It’s been advantageous for us because we’re a CBS affiliate,” said Joe McNamara, VP of WBNG-TV and WBXI-TV out of Binghamton, N.Y. “CBS generally skews 25-54, but having another channel that skews 18-34 is advantageous. It’s been a pretty good cross-promotional tool. It’s good for our news production because we’re always trying to find those younger demos, so we use The WB to promote our news.”

While Mr. McNamara said the agreement does allow for some revenue from ad sales on The WB, it’s not a huge windfall. “But we feel the product on the channel has gotten better and better,” he said, “so buyers aren’t as hesitant to buy time as they were five years ago.”

Cable executive Patty McCaskill, VP of programming at Cequell III and a former executive at Charter Communications when the 100+ Station Group was launched, said the arrangement has also been of benefit to cable. “We had a lot of customers in these smaller markets who were hearing about programming on The WB. It doesn’t matter that they weren’t in major metropolitan areas. They still get TV Guide, they still read People magazine. They wanted the programming and this provided a way for us to give it to them that was mutually beneficial.”