Bargains or Bergdorf?

Warner Bros. creates selling method to boost 'Access Hollywood'; but wariness prevails, and only 13 stations sign on

Warner Bros. devised a new selling strategy: offering
Access Hollywood

at bargain-bin prices to lock it into the access daypart. While that interests some stations, others are examining the fine print.

One thing's for sure: Warner Bros. had to do something to keep NBC-produced
Access Hollywood

alive. It typically ranks near the bottom of all magazine strips in the national syndicated ratings, eking out scores too low for stations to grab healthy amounts of advertising money, according to Nielsen Media Research.

So far, 13 stations have signed on to the deal, announced with fanfare at a press conference last week.
Access Hollywood

is theirs for half the license fee of whatever program they're willing to replace between 6 and 8 p.m.

In year one, 80% of the fee goes back to the stations (half in cash and half as matched funds for internal
Access Hollywood

promotions). For years two and three, that license fee increases by 5%, and stations have an option to re-up their contracts for year four or five.

With syndicated series rarely seeing a second season, such devotion to a show seems odd. But the show may be stronger than it seems. NBC O & Os (having a financial stake in
Access Hollywood

) air it in syndication's best, 6 to 8 p.m. real estate, and the show delivers well.

It doesn't translate to ad dollars, but

did outpace
Entertainment Tonight

(which doubles

ratings nationally) in 10 top cities last May (5.3 vs. 4.3 in households). To compare, in that same month,
Access Hollywood

averaged a weak 1.8/5 in the 29 metered markets that carry the show on non-NBC-owned stations.

But it's iffy whether Warner Bros.' carrot makes much of a difference to stations.

"Is it in the best interest of a television station to clear a show strictly because they're being 'paid' to do so?" asks Garnett Losak, Blair TV's director and vice president of programming. "The answer is no. It's in their best interest to put the

television programs on their station that they can."

To its credit,
Access Hollywood

"has enough stories of it performing well in access to make it a viable option for TV stations," Losak adds.

Yet results for the two stations that have already started airing
Access Hollywood

between 6 and 8 p.m. this season-WRTV-tv Indianapolis bumped
Inside Edition

at 7 p.m., and KNXV-TV Phoenix moved out
Home Improvement

at 6:30 p.m.-aren't that hot.

For October, WRTV-tv's
Access Hollywood

outing posted a 3.2/6, a 32% drop from its
World News Tonight

lead-in (4.7/9) and a 24% slide from its year-ago airing of
Hollywood Squares

(4.2/8). Similarly, KNXV-TV scored a 2.5/4, a 47% plunge from its local- news lead-in (4.7/8) and a 34% fall from its year-ago run of
Real TV


Still, a representative for King World, whose access-heavy programs have been targeted as potential
Access Hollywood

replacements, thinks most stations see holes in Warner Bros. plan, which the studio quietly began offering nearly three months ago.

"With all of Warner Bros.' sales efforts, so few stations have taken advantage of this," says the representative. "What we've heard is that stations were declining because they wanted to keep a long-term franchise over a short-term freebie."

Warner Bros. syndication chief Dick Robertson understands "it's human nature for people not to want to shake up what they've got." So he had to "come up with a business plan that would work" to woo them.

He thinks he'll win over every TV market in the country. "You could put a Burger King on a corner and make money, or you could put Bergdorf Goodman on that corner and make a lot more money," he claims. "And we're charging only a Burger King-like rate."