MyNetwork TV's shift last week from a TV network to a “programming service” has syndicators salivating. The change will leave at least six hours per week of primetime programming up for grabs, and that could be good news for program distributors, whether big studios or smaller independents.
So far, MyNetwork TV (MNT) has scheduled just three nights of its 10-hour weekly schedule. A double block of NBC Universal's Law & Order: Criminal Intent, coming off a run as a syndicated strip, will air one night. WWE's Smackdown will still air on Friday nights. A movie will occupy another night.
MNT affiliates already programmed Sunday nights themselves, and now they will also program Saturday nights. That means syndicators have several new opportunities to sell shows into primetime.
“Any time there's an opportunity to provide programming, we're interested,” says Ken Werner, president of Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution.
Dave Morgan, president of Litton Entertainment, says he's already seen sales for his Brian McKnight Show spike since MNT made its announcement. “We've been anticipating that one of these two new networks would need to start retreating from original programming because of the high cost of residuals and the dwindling ad market,” Morgan says. “Launching Brian McKnight was part of reading those tea leaves.” Many stations have picked up McKnight for their Saturday night prime.
MNT is looking at any and all programming, from off-net dramas to first-run talk, to fill its remaining four hours of prime. “People are flying out of the woodwork on this one—syndicators, producers, production companies,” says Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for Fox Television Stations.
But there are several obstacles in the path to programming MyNetwork TV. First, many shows are already cleared nationwide, whether in syndication or on cable. For example, USA Network has the Monday-through-Friday rights to NBCU's House. That means MNT wouldn't be able to add House during the week. It would also be tough to add a popular first-run show, like Oprah or Ellen, to its primetime because those shows are already cleared in other time periods in most markets.
In addition, networks must pay hefty residual fees to the guilds when shows air on broadcast television. Broadcast networks and TV stations pay set residual fees, no matter how much revenue a show is earning. Cable networks pay a percentage of total revenue, giving cable an advantage when it comes to picking up off-net programs.
Still, there are plenty of shows not in syndication or on cable that could be a good option for MNT, such as Warner Bros.' Nip/Tuck or NBCU's Friday Night Lights.
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