The mood in the room was upbeat when the ABC affiliates board, chaired by WSB Atlanta V.P. and General Manager Bill Hoffman, met with the network last night in Las Vegas. The closed door session ran for about two hours, including about 45 minutes with ABC Senior V.P. of affiliate relations John Rouse, and an update on Capitol Hill proceedings from NAB President Gordon Smith for about 30 minutes.
Rouse presented clips of ABC's development slate under entertainment chief Paul Lee, who took over in July. The affiliates are optimistic that ABC can grow on its recent success with comedies; almost half of the two dozen shows highlighted in the meeting were sitcoms.
"We liked what we saw," says Hoffman. ABC also has a new face atop news in Ben Sherwood, and Rouse briefed the room on the network's news strategy, including a full-court press to cover the royal wedding later this month.
As was a major theme at last year's affiliates board meeting in Vegas, the affiliates want more firepower in the 10 p.m. slot, which leads into their local news. "We'd like that to be a more formidable time period for us," says Hoffman.
Early returns from crime drama Body of Proof, he said, are encouraging for that vital slot.
While the new terms of reverse compensation will dominate some talks between networks and their affiliates this week in Vegas, Hoffman said ABC and its affiliates are past that. "We went through that conversation a year ago," he says. "We're focused on other things."
ABC and its affiliates have had success with their progressive Inventory Exchange System, which sees the network and its affiliates buy and sell each others' extra spots at opportune times on the calendar. Hoffman says the program may expand. "We've show what we can do for each other," he says. "We'd like to take it further-do it for a full year and take a measure of it."
ABC and ESPN will likely bid for upcoming Olympic Games rights along with the other networks. Hoffman says stations affiliated with all the networks would probably end up helping cover the costs of such rights, and that the ABC affiliates would like to keep their key newscasts airing in pattern during the Olympics to best capitalize on viewer sampling. He suggested it was a bit premature for Olympics-related discussions: "We're not in deal mode."
While the current development slate is mostly the work of past entertainment chief Steve Macpherson, the entire affiliates body will get a feel for Paul Lee's hitmaking strategy when the partner stations meet with the network next month in Pasadena. "We'll see the taste buds of Paul then," says Hoffman, "and we'll see where we go from there."