If attendees were looking for Round 2 of the long and bloody Fox affiliates meeting in Las Vegas last year, it simply did not happen at the Las Vegas Hotel April 17. Last year's meeting saw a brutal battle over retrans fees, but this year's focused on what lies ahead.
"It was 180 degrees different. It was positive," said Jon Hookstratten, Fox executive VP of network distribution. "People are very excited about having live sports on Saturday nights. After what we went through last year, it feels good."
The affiliates seemed to echo Hookstratten's sentiment. "Total love fest," said one veteran. Steve Doerr, VP and group manager of Smith Media's New York/New England region, took a more measured approach. "The tone was pleasant and collegial," he said. "It was a very business-like meeting."
The first half of the almost three hour confab, which featured network brass and perhaps 160 on the affiliate side, featured presentations from NAB president and CEO Gordon Smith and FCC commissioner Robert McDowell. "It's always good to hear from someone with that kind of perspective, who's been in the Beltway for so long," said one broadcast group chief who asked not to be named.
The affiliates are concerned about the FCC's push to have stations' public files, which includes a log of political spot buys and unit rates, made available online. "You could see the blood pressure start to rise when that came up," said one affiliate. "There's concern over what's proprietary and what's not."
The first half also featured a 30 minute social media presentation from Frankie Russo of the interactive marketing firm Potenza, focused on maximizing the social media reach for the Fox network programming.
The primetime staple X Factor was not discussed, but Fox's move to increase its live sports programming on Saturday nights was. Following the April 16 Fox affiliates board meeting, board chairman Steve Pruett expressed his enthusiasm for the initiative, which comes at a time when affiliates of all networks are concerned about the migration of high profile sports to cable. "The affiliates board is very pleased with it," he told B&C. "We intend to expand the concept and build on it."
Another affiliate called it "a real smart programming strategy. Any time you have live sports, it's great."
After last year's rift, it appears both the network and the affiliates body are united in taking on common foes in Washington and online and across the dial. "The reality is, it's over and it's time to move on," said one affiliate. "There are a lot of challenges -- things we'll go out and conquer together."