My Network TV Mulls Change To Programming Strategy


News Corp. is rethinking its all-telenovela strategy for MyNetworkTV, with exploratory talks underway to add inexpensively produced game, talk and reality shows to the mix, according to people familiar with the discussions.

MNT would need to add more inexpensive programming to retain its current station-friendly economic model, which offers nine minutes of local ad time and five minutes of national.

“We have lots of meetings,” says an MNT spokeswoman, who declined to elaborate.

While there is believed to be no timetable for adding the new shows, the talks come after MNT’s second batch of 13-week telenovela-inspired prime time soaps, which debuted Dec. 6, attracted lower ratings than the first low-rated pair.

Wicked, Wicked Games started out with a 0.8 rating/1 share in the overnight markets its first three days and slipped to a 0.7/1 from Monday-Wednesday of week two. Watch Over Me launched at a 0.7/1 and dropped to a 0.6/1.

The initial series, Desire and Fashion House, had averaged a 0.4/1 and 0.5/1, respectively, among the primary demo of adults 18-49 in their September debut weeks—and hovered around that level for the remainder of their 13-week run. In comparison, Wicked and Watch each garnered a 0.3/1 in their premiere week.

MNT had been counting on a ratings bump in December, when the major networks go into rerun fare around the holidays.

When News Corp. announced the formation of MNT last February, it had put alternative fare into the development pipeline as a backup.

But that plan was later scrapped, with Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy saying in July that cable channels like Lifetime didn’t abandon women just because their initial programming got off to a slow start. This fall, however, he was quoted as saying that MNT  “obviously can’t stay at these levels forever.”
MNT debuted in September, just as the major networks rolled out a slew of expensive and critically acclaimed serialized dramas, many of which have faltered because viewers did not have the time to commit to them.

Executives thought the new telenovela-inspired programming form, which is popular around the world but had never been tried on American TV, would be immune from the rules that apply to traditional year-round programs. Their viewing patterns are traditionally established in the first 10 weeks of the season.

When MNT was announced, News Corp. President-COO Peter Chernin said it “can be profitable from day one.” But union deals quickly doubled programming costs to more than $1 million per week for each series, even with new production techniques and economies of scale. Meanwhile, some national sponsors wanted to see other types of programming before making advertising commitments.

Chernin also had touted Fox’s prowess in “launching new networks.” Orphaned stations affiliated with UPN and WB, whose netlets had merged into The CW, agreed with that premise and signed on as MNT affiliates. They expressed faith that News Corp. would do whatever it took to make MNT work.