What Happened in Vegas

Affiliate meetings centered on development, Washington issues
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The NAB convention in Las Vegas last week produced plenty of news, such as the 12-group mobile TV venture, but the network affiliate meetings also revealed a look at what’s ahead. Following is a look at the Big Four.

ABC: FOCUSING ON DEVELOPMENT
Attracting more male viewers was a main theme at the ABC affiliates board meeting in Las Vegas. The board met with two emissaries from the network, who shared development details with them.

The affiliates association met at the NAB Show April 11. Chairman Darrell Brown said he was “encouraged” by both the quality and quantity of ABC’s development slate, which includes a dozen comedies and almost as many dramas. The network and affiliates board share three primary goals for development: put some winners on at 10 p.m.; build on the current season’s success in launching comedies; and broaden the network’s appeal to male viewers, particularly as that group migrates to proven sports programming like Monday Night Football on cable. “We’ve still got some work to do there,” Brown said.

ABC set its summer schedule last week. Brown said the cop drama Rookie Blue, which debuts June 24, was one of the standout clips in the meeting.

NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith visited the board for about 45 minutes to reinforce the points he was to make in his opening address the next day, including retransmission consent and the FCC’s plans for broadcasters’ spectrum. (Smith would visit all of the affiliate meetings.) While ABC has been pushing affiliates to share retrans spoils as part of their affiliate agreements, Brown said the topic didn’t get much play in the board meeting.

Smith encouraged the board to make their feelings heard on Capitol Hill. As Brown put it: “He made a plea to stations to engage with the political leaders representing their markets.”

CBS: CONCERNED ABOUT COMCAST-NBC
The CBS affiliates board met at NAB April 12, and took the opportunity to go over what chairman Tim Busch termed the “action plan” for the board’s concerns over the pending NBC-Comcast merger. On March 29, Busch had issued a letter to CBS affiliates expressing the board’s opinion that the merger would unfairly empower NBC and weaken its rivals; the letter also pushed for regulatory conditions.

Busch said the CBS board will continue to work with its counterparts at ABC and Fox to protect their interests not only against NBCComcast, but also regarding the FCC’s plans to grab spectrum for broadband use.

CBS Affiliate Relations President Diana Wilkin also visited to update the board on network matters; CBS affiliates continue to enjoy strong primetime viewing.

According to Busch, the mood within the meeting was “excellent.” “It was very collaborative and very thoughtful,” he said, citing the deep experience of the board’s members. “We’re just getting ready for the upfront presentation in May.”

FOX: TALKING RETRANS AND SPECTRUM

The Fox affiliates body meeting in Las Vegas April 13 surely had Conan O’Brien near the top of the original agenda, at least until the late-night funnyman announced a day earlier that he would be going to TBS. Most of the 100-plus affiliates gathered at the Las Vegas Hilton let out a sigh of relief when O’Brien was suddenly off the table. When Fox executives jokingly polled the room to see how many affiliate managers wanted to see them attempt to get O’Brien to the negotiating table once again, just two or three raised their hands in support of an O’Brien-hosted show on Fox.

Instead, the meeting focused on pressing issues like retransmission consent and the shift of high-profile programming from broadcast to cable, including the latter’s ability to lure sporting events through subscription revenue. The affiliates were concerned to see the financial hit NBC took on the recent Olympics, as well as the economic challenges facing broadcast networks when it comes to the escalating cost of sports rights.

“Everybody was talking about retrans and spectrum,” says one attendee. (The meeting was closed to the press, and affiliates were asked to keep its details private.)

The overall mood at Fox’s Vegas confab was positive, said attendees, with affiliates generally pleased to report a revenue picture that mirrors the state of the nation’s rebounding economy. “The meeting was upbeat,” said one Fox affiliate manager. “Everyone seemed cautiously optimistic about the economy and business.”

NBC: AFFILS PLEASED WITH PRIMETIME
The NBC affiliates board walked out of its meeting April 13 in an upbeat manner, pleased with the strides the network has made in primetime. Board chairman Michael Fiorile said NBC updated the gathering on development. Rookie shows like The Marriage Ref and Parenthood, he said, offer quality product to viewers and advertisers alike: “We’re very pleased with primetime, compared to four months ago.”

NBC, of course, nixed the primetime Jay Leno Show earlier this year after the affiliates voiced dissatisfaction with its ratings. Fiorile said Leno is thriving in his old time slot once again.

NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith paid the NBC affiliate leaders a visit to talk up his key issues. “He said we need to make sure we don’t lose spectrum,” Fiorile said.

Meatier issues will be tackled when the affiliates meet in New York May 17, according to Fiorile. The mood in Vegas, he added, was overwhelmingly positive: “If you look at where we were four or five months ago, we’re feeling good.”

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