What Do Network Execs Know From New Media? - Broadcasting & Cable

What Do Network Execs Know From New Media?

At critics' tour, queries about tech overwhelm programming brass
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Although the Television Critics Association (TCA) press tour is designed to trumpet TV's newest programming to the nation's press, much of the focus at this year's midseason event centered on new distribution modes.

In fact, CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler was visibly taken aback by the deluge of post-presentation new-media questions on video-on-demand (VOD), Google and other CBS initiatives. “With the new media, oy gevalt,” she quipped in her best Yiddish.

But speaking to reporters, she summed up a common theme: Trying to predict the future of new-media channels is futile.

“The truth is, we don't know where we are headed,” she said. “We are optimistic and very encouraged. We know we need to get our programming to the audience where they are when they want to watch it.”

Not so fast

In contrast, Fox Entertainment President Peter Liguori talked about his network's counter strategy to not be first with new-technology initiatives. “Being a counter-puncher in new technology is probably not a bad idea,” he said.

Execs say the goal of many new moves is simply to drive more eyeballs to first-run shows. They also know that the affiliates are watching closely.

Tassler said affiliates are playing along—for now. “They have adopted a wait-and-see attitude,” she said. “They also know we have a joint vested interest in preserving the value of the first-run.”

For The WB Network Chairman Garth Ancier, the resolution of new-media issues had more urgency. He said agreement on some strategies makes him confident the network will soon be able to complete a long-term ownership deal with the Tribune stations. He suggested that the Chicago-based conglomerate is nearing a 10-year pact continuing its relationship. Tribune owns a 22.5% stake in the network.

The WB: Network Won't Lose a Night

The WB executives, in the midst of a tough season, touted the network's viability and dismissed rumors of a cutback in the number of nights the network will program.

“The network is very sustainable,” Ancier said. “but just like with other networks, it is a very challenging time. We are definitely not giving up a night—not Friday, not Sunday.”

Despite corporate-wide cutbacks at Time Warner, WB Entertainment President David Janollari also said the network is not reducing production, another rumor in the biz. “We are planning to make as many projects—on the reality front, comedy front and drama front—as scripts that we get passionate about,” he said. “There is no set number.”

But Ancier revealed finances were a reason for folding veteran drama 7th Heaven. He said it lost $16 million this season, despite a license-fee reduction from the season before.

Fox: Late Night In, Arrested Out?

Fox wants to get back into the late-night wars after signing former Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn executive producer Todd Yasui as senior VP, late night programming. But Liguori said he'll be careful before jumping in: “It is highly unlikely that we, all of a sudden, will come out with a big announcement, a big piece of talent, and do what has been done in the past.”

About Arrested Development, Liguori said, “I have to be frank with you, it is highly unlikely the show is coming back.”

CBS: Five Telenovelas, One Anchor

CBS reiterated that it hopes to have one of the five telenovelas in development on the air by summer, possibly airing twice a week over a 13-week period.

“We are trying to experiment with the form using different creators,” Tassler said. “Some are based on existing formats, some are original ideas, some are hybrids between reality and scripted.”

New CBS News President Sean McManus seems to have persuaded CBS Corp. Chairman Leslie Moonves to stick with a single-anchor format for CBS Evening News. McManus said his goal is to find the “face of CBS News.” He wouldn't confirm if Today co-host Katie Couric is the lead candidate but suggested that there is a short list. We may not know until May, when her contract is up.

UPN: More Reality On The Way

UPN unveiled a new hybrid comedy/reality series starring two members from band 'NSync, coming next season. President Dawn Ostroff also said the network is developing a script for next season with 'NSync's Joey Fatone and Lance Bass, described as a modern-day hybrid comedy/reality version of The Odd Couple, tentatively titled Out of Sync (Fatone is Oscar, Bass is Felix). It's part of a broader “reality” development slate that Ostroff said runs the gamut from “real” soaps to competition-type reality series.

Additional reporting by Jim Benson

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