It's shades of 2011 again in the Fox universe, with the network pushing for more retransmission cash from partner stations, affiliates shoving back and interminable meetings in faceless boardrooms determining the future of the partnership. Further flavoring the déjà vu, the Fox affiliates are once again in talks to negotiate retrans deals as a unified group— a so-called blanket agreement— as opposed to dozens of different owners with distinct, and confidential, pacts.
After a hastily scheduled meeting July 17 in Dallas, 60 Fox station owners and group heads, representing the vast majority of Fox’s affiliated stations, emerged “overwhelmingly unified,” according to one.
Jeff Rosser, Fox affiliates board chairman, mentioned a “wide variety” of issues covered in the meeting, which the network was not invited to. But clearly, it was Fox’s new affiliate contract terms that had the broadcast leaders promptly scheduling flights to Dallas. In an email to group heads, Rosser cited “new demands being made by Fox, especially at a time when Fox primetime is down significantly.”
One broadcast veteran described it as a chance for the affiliate leaders to float a retrans proposal to the whole group, and see if there is enough buy-in to move forward on the concept.
Rosser said it was “very premature” for him to respond, and added that any such initiatives “are intended to have a positive effect for both the affiliate and the network.”
Fox said in a statement it has “tremendous respect” for its affiliates. “Those relationships are paramount,” it added, “and therefore we will not address our private negotiations in a public forum.”
Efforts to get dozens of station groups on board on any issue often elicits the metaphor about herding cats. There are no such plans for blanket retrans initiatives at the ABC, CBS and NBC affiliate boards. Some affiliates are skeptical that the Fox station chiefs will be able to pull it off. “You’ll never get 60 owners to work together,” said one.
Tense Meetings and Missives
Fox and its affiliates battled bitterly throughout much of 2011, including leaked, rhetoric-rich missives hurled from both sides, supercharged talk of a “fight for survival” from then-affiliates board chairman Brian Brady, and a marathon four-hour meeting in Las Vegas that spring. A nearly yearlong effort to establish a blanket retrans agreement for affiliates ultimately imploded.
Also in 2011, several Fox affiliates, including KTRV Boise, KSFX Springfield (Mo.), WTVW Evansville (Ind.) and WFFT Ft. Wayne became former Fox affiliates when their parent companies did not agree to new affiliation terms.
Fox has further spooked affiliates by acquiring stations in NFC football markets, including deals for WJZY Charlotte and KTVU in the Bay Area. Fox affiliates want assurances that they will not lose their network ties based on Fox’s acquisitive strategy.
Fox affiliate GMs have been through much of this strife before. “Fox will do what’s best for them, and we’ll do what’s best for us,” said one. “Hopefully there’s a match.”
TUFF TV FINDS CROWD-FUNDING TOUGH
Testosterone fueled diginet Tuff TV wants to know if viewers are tough enough to cough up cash for the network. “Own a piece of Tuff TV,” said the network on its website, touting a crowd-funding initiative meant to raise funds to “take this company to the next level,” said John Bonner, executive VP and cofounder.
Owned by Seals Entertainment and Luken Communications, Tuff TV aims to double its 40-plus affiliates and 38 million-plus U.S. households.
“An investment in Tuff TV will have an immediate impact on the network by providing funds and infrastructure that will fuel distribution growth, advertising sales and more exclusive original programming,” said Chris Hannaford, EVP of programming.
Tuff TV set $50,000 as a goal but, according to its crowd-funding platform SparkMarket.com, had raised only $30 at presstime.
Lou Seals, CEO, called the week-old initiative a “learning process” that had nonetheless generated considerable interest in Tuff TV.