Station to Station

Affiliates Flex Their Muscles

1/14/2010 04:04:23 PM

While the network-affiliate relationship has taken some dings of late, such as the networks demanding a piece of the stations’ retrans cash as part of their affiliate agreements, it seems as though affiliates have been making a strong case for their continuing clout amidst the recent Jay-Conan imbroglio.By almost all accounts, the NBC affiliates were instrumental in getting NBC to yank the struggling Jay Leno Show (a.k.a. New Coke) from the primetime schedule. Heck, NBC even said Jay Leno was doing the kind of number it expected, which suggests the network really didn’t want to make the change.

NBC affiliates board chairman Michael Fiorile told me last weekend that NBC has been “a pretty good partner” throughout the Jay Leno ordeal, and the network had not only listened to its affiliates about their struggles with late news lead-ins, but acted on their concerns too.

“We asked them to make a change, and they responded,” he said.

And as rumors swirl about O’Brien departing NBC to take up a late-night slot at Fox, the Fox affiliates may just have the power to keep Conan from making the move, as they largely do pretty well with syndicated fare and, increasingly, local news at 11 and 11:30.

To be sure, the Conan-to-Fox thing isn’t much more than chatter right now, far as we know, and Fox affiliate managers were unanimously iffy about going on the record regarding Conan. (It seems like NBC affiliates have no problem speaking out about network issues, while I haven’t seen that level of outspokenness among their Fox counterparts.) Fox reportedly asked its station people to crunch the numbers on what their revenue picture would look like with a network show, versus what it looks like with syndicated and local programming.

Privately, many affiliates told me Fox would have to really sweeten the deal-as in, give them more ad inventory, to get the group on board with a late-night network program. One affiliate-side insider spoke of Fox needing to make “additional inducements” to make up for affiliates’ losses.

Otherwise, the GMs suggested, they’re in for a battle. “I don’t know how the network would pull that off,” said one former Fox GM. “The big groups would say absolutely not.”

Fox entertainment prez Kevin Reilly acknowledged affiliate concerns while discussing O’Brien’s possible free agency in Los Angeles Monday. “The affiliates are just coming through a very challenging business cycle,” he said. “They have gotten hit very hard by the recession so we’re not going to be cavalier about this in the least.”

So affiliates still matter–at least for today.

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