New Nets Sign First Affiliates

Mar 6, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The CW and MyNetworkTV, the competing networks set to launch this fall, last week announced their first long-term affiliation agreements with stations not in their founding station groups.

The CW, a partnership of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp., signed five stations, one each from five station groups, in markets that represent 4.32 percent of the U.S. TV universe. Three of the stations are in the 30 largest markets. Added to the 11 CBS-owned UPN stations and 16 Tribune-owned WB stations committed to The CW when it was announced Jan. 24, the deals boost The CW’s clearance to almost 52 percent of the country.

News Corp.’s MyNetworkTV signed 17 stations, all owned or operated by the Sinclair Broadcast Group, in markets that encompass 11.9 percent of the TV homes in the country. Four of the stations are in the top 30 markets. Added to the 10 Fox-owned stations committed to sister operation MyNetworkTV when it was announced Feb. 22, the group deal raises MyNetworkTV’s clearance to some 36 percent of the U.S.

Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy said MyNetworkTV started with Sinclair because “This was the biggest station group available.” Of the 17 stations signed, 10 have been affiliated with The WB, six have been affiliated with UPN and one is an independent.

Sinclair, which owns and operates, programs or provides sales services for 58 stations-19 of them Fox affiliates-still has eight stations that could compete in their markets for affiliation with The CW, which is requiring affiliates to pay reverse compensation to carry 35 hours of network programming, including a two-hour weekday afternoon programming block and five hours of kids programming on Saturday mornings. The CW will allow affiliates three minutes of local commercial inventory per hour in prime time and keep 10 minutes for the network.

In the announcement of the affiliation agreements, reported to be for five years’ duration, Sinclair President and CEO David Smith cited a “favorable inventory split” as one of the “compelling” advantages MyNetworkTV affiliation provides to Sinclair’s stations.

Affiliates of MyNetworkTV-which is not asking for reverse compensation-will get nine minutes of local inventory per hour in prime time, which will consist of two hour-long stripped programs Mondays through Saturdays, while the network keeps five minutes.

Mr. Abernethy said stations with which MyNetworkTV has spoken “like the financial model, and I also think they like us being able to think out of the box.”

But a source close to The CW said stations affiliated with Fox, UPN and The WB make about 80 percent of their revenue between 5 p.m. and midnight, not in daytime, and that many stations benefit from having a network supply a 3-5 p.m. block that includes adult-oriented programming the stations might otherwise not be able to afford and which makes for a branded platform from which the promote prime-time lineups.

“If I could have them both, I’d have them,” said Neal Sabin, executive VP of Weigel Broadcasting, owner of South Bend, Ind.’s WMWB-TV, a WB affiliate that signed with The CW last week.

Because his station’s schedule format will not change and because much of the programming will be familiar to his WB audience, “I think a lot of our viewers won’t even know there is a change in network.”

Carol LaFever, CEO of Cascade Broadcasting Group, feels the same about the switch to The CW for Cascade’s WB affiliate, WBKI-TV in Louisville, Ky.

“The WB affiliation was material to our success,” said Ms. LaFever, whose station has been recognized by The WB for “excellence across the board.”

She plans to begin promoting the switch to The CW “as early as July.”

As for the afternoon block that includes “Reba” and “ER” reruns, “It’s better than it was before, because it used to be kids,” Mr. Sabin said.

The CW is expected to announce more affiliation agreements this week.

As for MyNetworkTV, Mr. Abernethy said, “We’re pleased, but we’re not resting.”