Buyers Eye Their My TV

Feb 27, 2006  •  Post A Comment

If it looks like a network, has broad appeal like a network and-perhaps most importantly-gets mass-distributed like a network, My Network TV very well may draw big ad bucks like a network. Ad buyers responded last week with cautious optimism to Fox Television Stations President Jack Abernethy’s plans for My TV, a programming service positioned as a solution for stations that will lose their network affiliations this fall as a result of the debut of The CW.

The biggest concern among buyers contacted last week about the proposition was deciphering which stations would carry the service and in which time periods.

My TV, which Fox executives unveiled last week during a press conference in New York, is a sort of hybrid between a national network and a syndicated programming block.

The service is scheduled to debut in the fall on Fox-owned stations that are currently UPN affiliates, representing about 24 percent of the country. My TV initially will comprise two stripped, English-language versions of the daily telenovelas that are so popular on Spanish-language television. At least on the Fox-owned stations that will carry My TV, the block will air in prime time, like network programming does.

Mr. Abernethy said My TV will look and feel like a network, rather than a syndicated package.

“We expect network production values and network marketing, and we expect to do a good job of it,” he said.

However, ad time will be split between stations and Fox more like a syndicated program is sold, and Fox’s syndication veterans at distribution division Twentieth Television are handling ad sales.

“Initially it’s a syndicated play on steroids,” said Elizabeth Herbst-Brady, senior VP and director of broadcast investment for Starcom USA. “If it’s successful, it could become a network play.”

Programming scheduled to be featured on My TV originally was slated to be sold in syndication by Twentieth Television.

Twentieth was selling a telenovela franchise dubbed “Desire.” But when CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. executives announced last month that UPN and The WB would be merged into The CW, and it became clear Fox-owned stations in 24 percent of the country would be left without their UPN affiliations and prime-time programming, Mr. Abernethy and his colleagues began to re-think the telenovelas strategy. “Desire” had been cleared in 70 percent of the country as a syndicated block to debut in June but was pulled back to become part of My TV.

“Selling this, from the agency call that I went on a month ago, is going to be very easy,” Mr. Abernethy said. “Our sales guys may not want to hear that, but I think these are very salable.”

Snagging a significant number of stations to sign on to My TV will be key to Mr. Abernethy’s “easy” ad sales, buyers insisted last week.

“If it just airs in 24 percent of the country, it’s not a national buy,” one buyer said. “That’s lower than the lowest cable network that anyone buys for a national buy.”

Fox may have to consider selling ad time to local buyers, at least at first, another buyer said.

“Cable networks that are in 24 million homes, they can’t get bought to save their souls. So if Fox wants this to work, they have to talk to the local buyers instead of the national buyers,” said Jason Kanefsky, VP and account director for MPG.

“If we have any modicum of consistency with what we tell the cable networks, then it would be difficult for us to take a national buy and place it in 24 percent of the country,” Mr. Kanefsky said.

Mr. Abernethy said he expects to secure “full coverage” of My TV.

No repeats are planned, which might appeal to advertisers.

My TV will target viewers in the 18 to 49 and 18 to 34 demographics, and Mr. Abernethy expects the novela format to skew female. Those shows should also attract a strong proportion of Hispanic viewers.

Ad buyers have an open mind about the appeal of novelas.

“It’s a very interesting type of programming,” Ms. Herbst-Brady said. “With the growth of the Latino and Hispanic population and its influence on our overall culture, it’s pretty smart to create some programming that could attract them. News Corp. has a pretty good track record with coming up with new formats and making them successful starting from what many would say initially were compromised distribution platforms.”

But another buyer warned that strip programming can be risky.

“It could work, but you’ve got to get very good sampling and then you’ve got to hold people six nights a week for 13 weeks. That’s a time commitment,” the buyer said.

Mr. Abernethy noted that while the broadcast networks don’t strip shows, the cable networks do.

“I think advertisers like the idea that they’re on every night. It’s the kind of programming that’s consistent with the rest of what we have on the channels,” he said.

My TV should also attract ad dollars by embracing product integration, Mr. Abernethy said.

“Since we have full control of the production, it’s a very efficient model. We have the ability to weave it seamlessly within the programs,” he said.

One of the telenovelas is set in the world of fashion, and its fictional fashion shows could have sponsors, just like fashion shows in the real world.

“We made a number of pitches on this back when we were anticipating a syndication model and people were very favorable,” Mr. Abernethy said.

My TV’s commercials will be sold by a team reporting to Bob Cook, president of Twentieth Television, and Bob Cesa, executive VP of advertising sales for Twentieth. Mr. Abernethy said Twentieth has been involved in managing the process from the beginning, so it makes more sense to enlist the syndication sales group for My TV rather than the network sales group at Fox Broadcasting.

Mr. Abernethy said My TV has no staff of its own at this point.

“We’re not anticipating a big overhead because we have a lot of people doing these functions already, just for different companies,” he said.

Jon Nesvig, president of sales for Fox Broadcasting, is bullish on My TV.

“What was Fox in the beginning?” he said, recalling the early days when Fox competed for scraps left over from the big networks and syndication. “Certainly to the extent that UPN was a factor, this would be a home for UPN dollars certainly and some reasonable competition for The CW,” he said.

Ad buyers said that, at first, working with the syndication sales unit makes sense.

“Because it’s going to be a split barter arrangement, it’s much closer to syndication than it is to network,” one buyer said. “The network model says to me that everything runs in pattern and I can get fast nationals the day after air every day.”

Pricing strategies are still to be determined. Mr. Abernethy said he hopes to garner costs per thousand in the same range that UPN was getting initially, “and then ultimately better.”

That, too, will depend on the cold facts of distribution.

“Pricing is a combination of expectations and reality. It’s definitely too soon to figure out what reality is, and almost too soon to figure out what expectations might be,” Ms. Herbst-Brady said.

When the money-losing WB and UPN announced plans to fold and their parents announced The CW, ad buyers said it was a sign that the market couldn’t support two small networks in addition to the Big Four. Now both The CW and My TV are predicting they’ll be profitable.

News Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin declared at the My TV press conference last week that the service “will be profitable from Day One.”

“If the viewer levels are anywhere near what they are for [Spanish-language] telenovelas, it could be very, very profitable,” he said.

For Mr. Abernethy, the difference between The WB, UPN and The CW models and My TV’s model is a matter of simple math.

“Are your ratings high? Are your costs low?” he said.

At The CW, “Their costs will be the same, one would expect. Whether
their ratings are any higher, that’s an open question,” he said. “We believe our ratings will be high and our cost will be much lower than the traditional network model where you need to program between 10 and 20 shows, three quarters of which fail and then you’ve got to replace them. I think our entrant makes the network model healthier.”

“I hope it works for them, I really do, because I think it’s important to have as many national outlets as possible, because fragmentation is a very good thing for buyers,” Mr. Kanefsky said. “It allows for more competition and lower prices. But ratings are also important to us and national distribution.” 

My Network TV

  • Two hours of prime-time telenovelas six nights a week

  • Split barter; nine minutes of local inventory per prime-time hour versus The CW’s three

  • Original programming 52 weeks a year in 65-episode, 13-week cycles

  • 18 to 49 and 18 to 34 demographics targeted, with special appeal for Hispanic viewers