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2/17/2006 07:00:00 PM Eastern

Less Arts, More Entertainment

A&E to redefine itself with new tagline, original dramas
and Tony Soprano

Just what does A&E stand for these days? That's what the cable
network has been explaining to ad buyers in advance of the upfronts. Network
execs are pitching the former Arts & Entertainment channel as a “focused
entertainment network” of original and acquired series whose shows are
connected by strong characters. An on-air rebrand, including a new tagline,
will be implemented over the next year, and the network is poised to open a Los
Angeles office to develop its first batch of scripted dramas in years.

“A&E's gone through so many changes in the last couple of
years, it's on us to clarify for everybody who we are and what we stand
for,” says Executive VP/General Manager Bob DeBitetto. “Most people still
go, 'A&E—Arts and Entertainment.' That is what we need to move
beyond.”

What the network stands for, he says, is characters—and that's the
message DeBitetto—whose Senior VP of Marketing, Artie Scheff, recently
departed—and his ad-sales team have delivered in L.A., Chicago and Detroit
over the past few months. Although that message sounds similar to USA's
(“Characters Welcome” is the tagline at USA, which has more than twice as
many viewers in the 18-49 demo as A&E), DeBitetto says A&E is more
focused in its personality-driven programming. A&E hasn't bought the
rights to pricey sports franchises or movies like the bigger entertainment
networks, he adds, instead focusing on youth-targeting reality series, original
movies and acquired dramas.

“The sports franchises and the wrestling deliver huge ratings—I
get that,” says DeBitetto. “Those companies also pay dearly for those
franchises.”

While original series like Rollergirls and Dallas
SWAT
haven't emerged as huge ratings draws, they and shows like
Dog the Bounty Hunter have lowered
A&E's median age in prime from 59 to 45 since DeBitetto joined the
network in 2003 as senior VP, programming. DeBitetto has also helped raise
A&E's ratings by 40% in 25-54 (579,000 viewers in prime, 2006 to date),
and by 75% in 18-49 (559,000), according to Nielsen Media Research.

A&E has scheduled more reality, including a series about rocker
Gene Simmons, and is laying the groundwork to produce its own scripted dramas.
The network will open its first development and production office in L.A. and
is down to a short list of about three to head its West Coast team. A&E, in
the next two weeks, expects to fill the top slot and to hire one or two more
L.A.-based executives to develop original dramas. The first, a companion to
CSI: Miami and The
Sopranos
, is loosely slated for summer 2007. The new show should
share its companions' edgy vibe—“a soft romantic ensemble drama probably
is not going to be right,” DeBitetto says.

But until then, much of A&E's plan centers on running
CSI: Miami five nights a week in fall 2006 and
The Sopranos in January 2007. The network
plans to run back-to-back Sopranos at least
one night a week, and DeBitetto insists the mobster drama will have “minimal
cuts” from its original format on HBO.

A&E has had preliminary conversations with potential advertisers
for The Sopranos, hoping the opportunity to
buy spots during the previously ad-free show will lure new youth-targeting
categories, like videogames, which haven't previously placed spots on
A&E.

Sales execs are pitching more than the 30-second spot: a first-run
trailer for a studio's upcoming movie, or the exclusive sponsorship of a
Sopranos episode. One-third of A&E's
clients during last year's upfront were first-time advertisers, and many were
in categories new to the network like beer, fast food and Internet service
providers.

Buyers see the network as “going through a metamorphosis,” says
Kris Magel, senior VP, national broadcast at Zenith Optimedia. A&E's team
recently met with Magel and screened a strip-club scene from
The Sopranos in both HBO and A&E
versions. Magel, who said the scenes were very similar, says he came away
better understanding A&E's focus: “In terms of original programming,
it's not that they're doing it better than USA, but it's definitely more
of a definition of a character-driven strategy.”

The CW Starts To Court Affiliates

The CW began negotiations with
potential affiliates last week, seeking compensation from stations and holding
out the prospect of expanding CW programming into more dayparts.

Meanwhile, CW owners CBS Corp. and
Warner Bros., looking to combine the best of
defunct WB and UPN lineups, were under pressure to set a fall prime
time schedule. With the upfronts rapidly approaching, they need to have
something in place soon to secure advertiser commitments and help cover
production deficits.

Warner Bros. racked up huge deficits as the primary supplier of The
WB. Now it and CBS' Paramount unit are
expected to be the primary suppliers to The CW, although the new network is
talking to outside suppliers about filling some of the slots.

In its first official contact last week with prospective affiliates,
The CW sent notice of its plans to more than 200 UPN, WB and independent
stations. In a separate affiliation proposal, the network is asking station
owners to propose dollar amounts that their station would contribute for
programming fees, launch support and regular promotion.

The network has said it will seek reverse-compensation fees from
affiliates. But many station owners, who do not currently pay their networks,
are bristling at the prospect. In some markets, station executives are bracing
for bidding wars.

In the proposal mailed last week, The CW outlined some terms on
programming and advertising. In prime time, affiliates will have three minutes
of commercial inventory and five minutes during daytime programming. CW
stations must clear all CW programs in prime time, 3-5 p.m. ET Saturday and 5-7
p.m. Sunday “without time compression, squeezing or alteration in CW
signal.”

The network is keeping open the option to expand into other time
periods, such as weekday mornings, Saturday nights and weeknights at 11 p.m.
ET. The CW would give affiliates one-year written notice, and any new schedule
move is subject to stations' preexisting programming commitments. CW
affiliates also will be required to broadcast network programming in
high-definition.

To hype the network's September debut, affiliates will be required
to buy outside media starting seven weeks before launch through the November
sweeps, followed by routine annual outside promotion.

But, with negotiations looming, station owners are also readying
alternate plans for their stations. Fox Television
Stations
already knows that its nine UPNs will not be a part of The
CW. Fox is preparing an alternative programming service for itself and other
orphaned UPN and WB stations.

At LIN Television, owner of seven
UPNs and WBs, executives are evaluating all options. LIN says that prime time
on its WBs and UPNs accounts for only 1.5% of the station group's revenue.

“We are also not certain if this [CW] is really the model that we
want to go,” said Chairman Gary Chapman last
week. “The truth of the matter is these networks ceased operation because it
was not a viable business plan. WB lost money. UPN lost money. Neither one of
them had great rating success, yet they occupied over 10 hours of prime time on
our television stations.”—Allison Romano/Jim
Benson

McCain Proposes À La Carte Bill

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a
frequent critic of cable rates, used a Senate Commerce
Committee
hearing on video franchising Wednesday to say he would
introduce a bill encouraging à la carte cable offerings.

After again laying into the cable industry over rising rates and
saying consumers have few competitive options, McCain said he plans to
introduce a bill that would free new cable competitors from local franchising
regulations if they, in turn, would agree to offer their video channels
à la carte. That bill would be one of a growing number of proposals to
streamline the video-franchising process to encourage broadband rollout and
price and service competition to cable.

McCain's goal is at least twofold: to lower cable bills and to give
parents more control over cable indecency, which is beyond the reach of the
FCC. —John Eggerton

Turner Gets 'Kong'

Turner Broadcasting has snagged
network premiere rights to NBC Universal's
King Kong
for TBS and TNT.

The Peter Jackson (Lord of the Rings) film has so far brought in about
$215 million domestically and more than $500 million worldwide.

The Turner window begins in 2008. As part of the deal, Turner is also
licensing the network debuts for NBC Universal's Doom, Two for the Money and
The Ice
Harvest
, as well as a second window for
Prime.

Turner already owns the rights to the original King Kong, which its Turner
Classic Movies
aired last fall to build momentum for the December
debut of the film's second remake.—J.E.

Nielsen Goes To College

Nielsen Media Research will include
college students in its national TV ratings early next year, marking the first
time that the company has added viewing outside the home to its
calculations.

The company will measure viewing for students living in dorms,
sorority and fraternity houses, and off-campus apartments. Nielsen considers
this to be “extended-home” viewing, since participants are members of
Nielsen households that have moved away for college.

Nielsen has been testing its college-student ratings for two years
with the support of major broadcast and cable networks, including
The WB, CBS,
Fox, MTV
Networks
, ESPN and
Turner BroadcastingA.R.

Kellogg Cans Apple Jacks Ads

Kellogg says it will no longer run TV ads putting down apples in favor
of the cinnamon in its Apple Jacks cereal, even though it “respectfully
disagrees” with the Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) of the Better
Business Bureau.

After reviewing five commercials, as well as Web and print
advertising, CARU recommended the ads be discontinued because they feature a
hip cinnamon stick, CinnaMon, and a “devious and grouchy” apple. “The
apple is always scheming, but ultimately fails, to beat CinnaMon to the bowl of
Apple Jacks,” said CARU.

CARU asked the company to “refrain in the future from denigrating or
disparaging apples or other fruits and refrain from stating or implying that
cinnamon, by itself, gives Apple Jacks its sweet taste.” (For the record,
without sugar, cinnamon is rather
bitter).

“While Kellogg disagrees with the conclusions CARU reached in the
decision and how it arrived at those conclusions, Kellogg fully supports the
self-regulatory process,” said the company in response. “The advertisements
complained about in CARU's initial inquiry are no longer running, and because
CARU has expressed remaining concerns, Kellogg does not plan to run them in the
future.”

CARU, the advertising industry's self-regulatory review unit, has
seen increased visibility with the rise in childhood obesity and calls for
regulation, and greater self-regulation of food ads targeted to kids.—J.E.

Olympics, Super Bowl Juice Ratings

Midway through February sweeps, sports determined the standings,
shaking up the broadcast networks' rankings. Through Feb. 15, factoring in
the strong Super Bowl numbers,
ABC was No. 1 in the key 18-49 demo with a 6.5
rating/16 share and in total viewers with 17.4 million. Without the big game,
though, ABC averaged a 3.9/10 in 18-49s, strong but not enough to beat
NBC and Fox.

With a big boost from Olympics
coverage, NBC averaged a 4.6/11 in the demo and 13.96 million total viewers.
But Fox's American Idol proved just as
competitive as big-event sports programming. The network averaged nearly the
same sweeps ratings as NBC: a 4.5/11 in the demo and 10.7 million total
viewers. CBS turned in a steady 3.7/9 and 11.8
million total viewers. The WB and
UPN brought up the rear, respectively
averaging 1.4/3 in the demo and 3.3 million total viewers and a 1.1/3 in the
demo and 2.7 million total viewers.—Anne
Becker

Woodruff, Vogt Making Progress

ABC News co-anchor
Bob Woodruff and cameraman
Doug Vogt, injured in a roadside blast in Iraq
last month, “continue to make progress,” according to the latest update
from ABC News President David Westin.

In an e-mail to staffers, Westin said the two men remain in Bethesda,
Md., for treatment. Woodruff is still in the hospital; Vogt is receiving
outpatient treatment.—A.R.

Clarification

The photo of NFL Head Referee Bill Leavy (Flash!, 2/13, p. 7) should
have been credited to Associated Press, AP/Paul Sancya, staff.

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