The big news coming out of last week's WB affiliate meeting (via satellite) was the corporate restructuring and promotion of Jed Petrick, longtime head of sales for WB, to president and chief operating officer of the network, marking the first time the network has filled those positions.
In making the announcement, WB chairman Jamie Kellner told affiliates Petrick would oversee network operations including sales, research, distribution/affiliate relations, the 100-plus affiliate group, standards and practices and WB.com.
That will free Kellner to focus more sharply on long-term strategies. Those strategies include expanding The WB into other dayparts and other media beyond broadcasting. "In order to reach our full potential we have to expand The WB beyond what it is today," said Kellner. "Maybe even beyond broadcast."
Kellner said he'd also focus on the Internet, ways to make affiliate stations stronger and persuading mainstream advertisers to focus more on younger demographics.
"He's only disappointed me once," Kellner said of Petrick. That was when the two were at Fox and Petrick left his senior sales position to form his own sports marketing and promotion company. But Petrick soon gave that up for a short stint as head of sales at The Baseball Network in the mid-'90s, before rejoining Kellner as head of sales at The WB when the network was formed in 1995. Petrick will remain based in New York, but spend a least one week a month on the West Coast where WB is based.
Separately, although it wasn't announced at the meeting, sources said a new contract raising Jordan Levin to co-president of WB Entertainment will be finalized shortly. Susanne Daniels, the current president of the division will be taking maternity leave shortly.
The negotiations to renew Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,
one of the network's marquee shows, sound like they're getting ugly. "Fox is not being very friendly," said Kellner, adding that Fox wants to double the current license fee.
"We can't afford it," he said.
In other news, the network said it would extend an agreement reached last year to help sell affiliate kids inventory. Locally, such inventory is hard to sell in a soft market, but it's easier for the network now because it has most of the top-rated kids' shows on the air today. But executives stressed that all or most of the affiliates have to agree to the plan in order for it to go forward.
WB affiliate relations vice president Ken Werner reported that the network had grown its national coverage to almost 88%, up five percentage points from the fall of 1999 when superstation WGN dropped its national carriage of the network. The network expects to reach 90% coverage in the next year or so, which would bring it back to the level it was when the superstation carried the signal.
Since the fall of 1998, the WB has grown its market-to-market broadcast coverage from 75%, with the addition of 101 stations in markets 100-plus and 25 stations in the top 99 markets, Werner said.
Both Werner and Keller stressed that future revenue and profit growth for stations and the network will come in large part by making the current distribution "more efficient." That is, by securing full-market coverage on low-channel positions on cable systems, aggressive on/off-air promotion, branding stations as "viewer destinations," and by investing in strong access shows leading into the network.
Kellner told affiliates he expected the network to reach break-even in a year. Then and only then will the network consider investing in additional episodes (beyond the full-season norm of 22) of its top-rated shows. Such investments could cost $20 million or more per year, which the network would be willing to consider only after reaching profitability.
Kellner said he in particular and the network in general would continue to press advertisers about spending money on the 18-34 demographic. "Our job is to show that Oldsmobile didn't have to die if they had done their jobs" and targeted younger car buyers, he said. And Al Gore might have won the presidency. "Eighteen-year-olds vote," said Kellner, noting the Gore campaign didn't spend a nickel on "our demographic."