Smaller Stations Get Together To Fight WB100+ Syndie Clout

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The WB 100-Plus station/cable consortium just got a big new competitor for syndicated product in smaller TV markets. Spearheaded by Raycom Media, the new Program Purchase Consortium (PPC) landed its first series last week: rights to Twentieth Television's On Air With Ryan Seacrest strip, set to debut in January.

Raycom Programming Vice President Mary Carole McDonnell has been leading the charge to get the consortium up and running since January. With Seacrest done (two years, cash plus barter), studios representing close to a dozen upcoming shows have called McDonnell to make a pitch, she said last week.

McDonnell hired Janet Bass, a former sales executive with New Line Television, as a consultant to help sign up stations, which now total 228 covering roughly 15% of the U.S. in markets 100-plus.

"We think this an exciting and innovative project and something that we really needed to do from a self-interest standpoint first and foremost," said Raycom Media President Paul McTear. He was referring to the frustration that many smaller-market stations have felt as The WB 100-Plus consortium has virtually cornered the market on desirable new syndicated product offered to smaller markets, providing one-stop selling to syndicators. But now, with the PPC, competitive bidding is coming to small-town America.

McDonnell said decisions on who gets first opportunity to bid in markets with multiple members will be made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the syndicators. Station groups getting Seacrest include Raycom, Northwest, Fisher, Piedmont and Cosmos; one station each from Meredith and Cox are also participating.

Most of the stations in the group are Fox affiliates although other affiliations are represented, said McDonnell.

John Tupper, a Fox station owner, chairman of the Fox affiliate advisory board and a PPC member, knows the group is facing a formidable task. The WB consortium has gobbled up product starting with Friends in 1998 and including Will & Grace, King of Queens, and two of this year's new talk entries, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Sharon Osbourne Show. "It's left few choices for small-market stations," he said.

PPC may have an advantage as it competes with WB 100-Plus for product that has barter time as part of the deal. "The barter spots on the WB 100-Plus in a lot of markets are of minimal value because they get hash marks or low ratings." Tupper said. He argues that the programming on the PPC stations is "somewhat stronger" and will drive bigger audiences into new shows bought from syndicators.

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