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Small Markets Add Up

Sep 22, 2003  •  Post A Comment

When a potential buyer can offer more households than the nation’s top market, syndicators are going to pay attention.

The formation of The WB 100+ Station Group, has made one-stop station shopping a reality for syndicators in 109 of the nation’s 111 smallest markets, reaching more than 9.18 million households (vs. more than 7 million in New York). It has also meant the stations have been able to tailor a full-day programming lineup of young-skewing syndicated shows group-wide that are consistent with The WB Network’s image.

Of course, it took five years to get there.

In September 1998, when the group debuted, blocks of time were filled with off-net syndie fare such as “Quincy, M.E.” and “Major Dad.” However, Lynn Stephanian, senior VP of programming and production for the outlet, said the mantra from the start was to fill time slots with as much first-run product as possible.

“We acquire what fits with our demo,” Ms. Stephanian said, “and that works for syndicators because we offer one-stop shopping that will not get pre-empted by news or sports. They know that when we put a show on the air, we take care of it because we give programming the right environment to flourish and a promotional push that’s effective.”

For syndicators, a sale to The WB 100+ presents an unusual opportunity that allows their shows to be run in the same time slot across the country. While this has prevented some distributors from making a sale to the group because they were uncomfortable with the available time slots, others are quick to note the upside of maintaining those relationships and selling to the group.

Broad Reach

Some point to the benefits of the younger demographic flow maintained by the group; others note that the national marketing campaign created by The WB 100+ stations is an efficient way to reach broad audiences.

New this year on the schedule are “The Sharon Osbourne Show” and “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in first run and “The King of Queens” and “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” in off-net airings. On the weekends, the group has added “The West Wing” and “Angel.”

“In keeping with the demo delivery, we felt that by keeping `Ricki Lake’ at 9 a.m. then moving toward `Sharon’ at 10 and `Ellen’ at 11, we’ve created a very strong, cohesive line up that allows audience flow throughout the morning” Ms. Stephanian said.

Analysts point to the evolving lineup for the group’s 109 markets as a textbook case of defining a network brand.

“Each time they have made an acquisition, they have done so in a way that more clearly defines their complementary nature to the WB prime-time lineup,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming at Katz Television Group. “When they first started, they needed to quickly acquire product from whatever was available in the marketplace. Now they can look at what are the best options to maintain the WB image, and they pursue those shows to add to their image.”

From “Sharon” and “Ellen” to “Elimidate” and “Celebrity Justice,” the vertically integrated station group has made use of its resources from sister company Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. But Ms. Stephanian insists that the two do business only when it makes sense for the brand.

“We are now doing business with almost every syndicator,” she said. “When it comes to buying from ourselves, we do not take everything our company has to offer. Look at the recent pickups of `King of Queens’ and `Bernie Mac’ (for 2005). They come from outside distributors but clearly make sense to be on our lineup. That’s one reason relationships are so vital for us to continue being successful.”

“The big reason we keep going back to Lynn is that at the end of the day, you want to do business with someone you respect and like,” said John Weiser, executive VP at Sony Pictures Television. “They work with you throughout the year. It would be easy for them to make a sale and walk away, but they are partners and act like it.”

“We think [The WB 100+ Station Group Executive VP and General Manager] Russ [Myerson] and Lynn have done an outstanding job building The WB 100+ into a solid operation,” said Paul Franklin, executive VP at Twentieth Television. “We are pleased to have become a partner with them on various programs, including our most recent deal for `The Bernie Mac Show’ in fall ’05.”