Steve Pruett, chairman of the Fox affiliates board, sounded an effusive note after the board met with the network following Fox's upfront presentation May 14. The matter of affiliates coughing up more retrans cash to Fox has been a source of considerable rancor in recent years, but Pruett said the affiliates now see that the money has been well spent by Fox, such as the increased lineup of live sports that is revitalizing Saturday nights.
"They do what they say they'll do," said Pruett. "They needed to reinvest in the network to compete with more sports and build a comedy block, and they've done all that so far."
Affiliates felt the upfront presentation, at the Beacon Theater, was more toned down than its counterparts in recent years. But an over the top show is less significant than a robust schedule, and affiliates seemed to think Fox has one. "I'm thrilled Fox has a platform for the fourth quarter," John Heislman, general manager of WFLX West Palm Beach, said of fall stalwart X Factor. "It's the first time Fox has been in the game in the fourth quarter in 10 years, or longer."
Pruett, the CEO of ComCorp of America, conceded that he's no network programmer, but he liked the looks of the new Mindy Kaling project, part of a Tuesday comedy block debuting in the fall, along with The Mob Doctor. "Kevin [Reilly, Fox entertainment president] has followed through on what he's been saying for a few years," said Pruett. "Building a comedy block and solidifying sports on Saturday nights."
Pruett said the network will add more college football to the Saturday prime lineup. Affiliates are pumped about the live sports, such as MLB, NASCAR and UFC mixed martial arts. "I think it makes a tremendous amount of sense," says Jim Zerwekh, vice president and general manager at WTEV-WAWS Jacksonville. "I think Fox continues to do a lot of things right."
The Fox affiliates board met after Fox's upfront presentation. The main topic was enforcing DMA exclusivity for streamed content; Pruett says the stations have to fight to ensure it's their local signal being streamed within the market. He said Mike Hopkins, Fox's president of affiliate sales and marketing, was "forthcoming" on the matter. "It's still under discussion, but it was a very positive and constructive discussion," he said.
Pruett says he'd like to see the various affiliate boards united on this issue.
For its part, Fox said the board-network meeting was positive as well. "It felt like a real constructive meeting," said a spokesperson. "The affiliates seem excited about the schedule, and we look forward to working together to strengthen Fox's presence in the affiliates' markets."
After the fireworks at previous affiliate board meetings, the sense of cooperation was welcome. "I hate to sound like a sycophant," Pruett said with a laugh, "but as a businessman, it all seems to be working."