The optimism with which some MyNetworkTV affiliates are greeting the network’s transformation to a programming service is partly attributable to a slate of shows that they think will be easier to sell to sponsors. MyNet stations, though, are withholding their final blessing until they see the rest of the lineup.
News Corp.-owned MyNet last week announced it is getting out of the broadcast programming business starting next season, partly to reduce costs. Instead, the 3-year-old network is replacing its current lineup with syndicated fare. A two-hour block of NBC Universal Distribution’s “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” already is scheduled.
“WWE Friday Night Smackdown” is returning next season to the schedule, while a movie night is slotted for Thursday. Two more nights’ lineups have yet to be announced, while Saturdays are being returned to the affiliates for programming.
This is the third programming change since MyNet launched in fall 2006 with a slate of telenovelas.
For MyNet, the change lowers costs by eschewing original shows. MyNet affiliates get programming that already has penetrated the popular consciousness, which may help them build their brands locally. Syndicators are looking at the so-far empty slots on the MyNetwork schedule as an opportunity to bolster sales.
What remains to be seen is how much appetite national advertisers have for spots in reruns in primetime. Also, if the gambit fails to draw more viewers at a lower cost, MyNet stations may be faced with a fourth change in programming in as many years.
Currently, MyNet is in the process of re-signing stations to affiliation agreements, which were set to expire at the end of this season, the network said.
Changing to crime dramas from MyNet’s edgy shows like “Jail” and “Street Patrol” may make things easier on station sales reps.
“There’s some advertisers who don’t want to be on programs that are a little too gritty,” said Bill Applegate, general manager of Raycom-owned WUAB-TV in Cleveland.
Some MyNet shows were on advertisers’ “hit lists,” he said.
“Replacing those with ‘Law and Order,’ for example, is a positive for us, from a revenue standpoint,” he said.
With “Law and Order” confirmed, affiliates are waiting to see what other programming MyNet adds to the schedule on two other nights each week.
One station manager, who asked not to be named due to corporate restrictions, said affiliates are giving MyNet the benefit of the doubt so far, in the hope that the programming on the two currently unscheduled nights will be just as affiliate-friendly as “Law and Order.”
He said a show like Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution’s “The Closer” would be incredibly beneficial to the MyNet affiliates.
Distributors view MyNet’s new strategy as an opportunity to expand programming sales. One distribution executive said he was approached by MyNet on Wednesday about specific programming options and is looking into a deal. The executive said MyNet’s allure for distributors is it allows show launches to occur on a national scale, rather than the piecemeal sales across the country that syndicators face when trying to clear markets in daytime.
However, one major question about the proposed change is what keeps affiliates invested in MyNetworkTV now that the network lacks, for the most part, original programming.
Stations themselves could purchase syndicated content for primetime, cutting out MyNet as a middleman altogether. MyNet executives say they’re not worried about that.
A lineup of hands-off, turnkey format primetime programming is beneficial to affiliates who don’t want to get bogged down in the time-consuming ordeal of dealmaking, said Frank Ciccha, senior VP of programming, Fox Television Stations.
“Anybody who doesn’t do that is going to have to piece together how many deals to fill up their primetime?” he said. “If I were wearing my MyNet hat, I’d say, ‘I defy anyone to go out and get anything better than what we are going to provide.’”
Also, MyNet stations benefit from having a continuing national identity, said MyNet Executive Vice President Paul Franklin. Without that MyNet branding, each would be left to forge its own brand.
“We’re in a position to acquire the better product to go on the air,” Mr. Franklin said.
While MyNet still is in the process of closing deals for the weekdays, the opening on Saturday night in many markets is giving distributors new angles to sell shows.
Some affiliates, like Mr. Applegate’s WUAB-TV, may fall back on pre-existing relationships with sporting franchises to broadcast games on Saturday.
But distributors like Litton Entertainment are looking at Saturday as an opportunity to sell to the MyNet affiliates. Litton is distributing talk show “The Brian McKnight Show” for next season.
“We were already a firm go, but [the] announcement that MyNetwork is returning Saturday night time periods to their affiliates has opened up whole new conversations for us,” said Tom Warner, executive VP of Litton Entertainment.