Good news galore made for largely convivial affiliate meetings of the general ABC affiliate body and the Fox affiliates board of governors last week in New York.
“The jumbo shrimp are back,” was a good-natured bottom line from one affiliate at the ABC gathering last Wednesday, the day after ABC unveiled its 2005-06 lineup. The affiliate gathering was defined largely by upbeat presentations by executives from Bob Iger, president of ABC parent Disney, on down.
Attendees of the Fox gathering, which involved a walk-through of the network’s new prime-time schedule, were mostly mum about their discussions.
The toughest issue at the ABC meeting might have been the fear among affiliates that ABC has not made sufficient changes to reverse the 10 o’clock slump that is providing a weak lead-in to their late local newscasts.
However, the affiliates were told that help is on the way in the form of changes at 9 p.m. The network said it has a particularly good shot at improving viewership at 10 p.m. Tuesdays (where newcomer “Commander-in-Chief,” starring Geena Davis as the first woman president, airs at 9 p.m., leading into the returning “Boston Legal”) and Wednesdays (where the hit “Lost” will air at 9 p.m. and lead in to the new sci-fi drama “Invasion.”
“It’s something that they’ve been talking about. We’ve obviously been listening,” said ABC VP of Affiliate Relations John Rouse, who pointed out that the 10 ABC-owned stations are in the same boat as affiliates in situations such as this.
Alex Wallau, ABC president of network operations and administration, reminded affiliates-who must be sensitive to the potential for being accused of being party to anyone’s political agenda-that Ms. Davis’ character in “Commander-In-Chief” is a political independent.
Affiliates were a bit surprised to hear that while “Good Morning America” will become available in high-definition format this fall, it likely will be fall 2006 before the stations will be able to insert local temperatures and their logos in the lower right corner of the HD version.
“The engineers are all over it,” Mr. Rouse said about the plans to resolve the HD temperature conflict. In the meantime, he said, “The standard-definition feed is not going to change.”
Other options for stations that would like to use the HD “GMA” feed include dispensing with the display of local temperature (not something that appeals to a lot of affiliates) or including the temperature in the crawl, which affiliates still will be able to present with the HD format.
Another item on the agenda was BrandNet, the affiliate-branding box being developed to facilitate cohesive lower-third branding and promotion on viewers’ screens. Stations were told last year they would need to begin to budget for the $20,000 equipment investment, said Mr. Rouse, adding that BrandNet should be ready in the first quarter of 2006.
In other business, Deb McDermott, the Young Broadcasting president, who has been chairman of the ABC Television Affiliates Association for two years, is turning over the reins of the group to Leon Long, the general manager of Liberty Corp.-owned WLOX-TV in the Biloxi-Gulfport-Pascagoula market in South Mississippi.
Meanwhile, the Fox affiliates advisory board was meeting with network executives a few blocks away Wednesday afternoon.
A major order of business was a walk-through of the prime-time lineups that Fox would announce the following day.
Brian Brady, the Northwest Broadcasting president and chairman of the Fox affiliates, would not talk about specific issues that were discussed.
“We talk about a lot of things,” he said. “We are not prepared to discuss them in the press.”
Nor would he comment on whether members of the affiliates board had expressed any concern about “American Idol” in the wake of the allegations by season 2 contestant Corey Clark that he had slept with and been coached by judge Paula Abdul, or asked for assurances that the network’s most valuable prime-time franchise would be protected.
“We told them we are investigating and will report back ASAP,” a network spokesman said. “They were not concerned. Their numbers are bigger than last year. They are happy.”