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ABC’s Ad Offer Is Spot-On

Stories related to network-affiliate relations are not normally happy ones; the partner station thinks the network is pushing too hard for retransmission cash, while the network might be miffed about the station bumping a primetime show or two for local election coverage.

But ABC’s new Inventory Exchange System (IES), which has the network offering eight of its spots to affiliates in midand late November, seems to be well received by most of the 200-plus affiliates.

Amidst chatter about the eventual implosion of the overall network-affiliate model, IES is bringing ABC and its partner stations closer together. “It’s an interesting and potentially mutually beneficial relationship,” Bill Fine, president/general manager of WCVB Boston, says of IES. “Station executives are appropriately concerned about the evolving network-affiliate relationship, but this is a positive development.”

Fine, along with WPLG Miami VP/GM Dave Boylan and affiliates board chairman Bill Hoffman, have been representing the affiliates on IES. The system was designed for periods when local television has high ad demand, such as election season and the lead-up to Black Friday. ABC offered six ad units in Grey’s Anatomy and ModernFamily, among other prime shows, in mid- and late October, and enough affiliates took the deal to make it a go. Eight November spots— including units in 20/20 and World News—were offered to affiliates in early October.

ABC uses its 10-station group, which includes KABC Los Angeles, to help determine spot demand and pricing. If the targeted number of affiliates accepting the deal is exceeded, the extra revenue is kicked back to the affiliate body—meaning less expensive spots for the participating stations.

For many, the offer came in mighty handy when those political spots were flooding their air. “We knew [inventory] would be tight at this time, so we knew right away we could make money on it,” says Tim Larson, general manager of KRDO Colorado Springs, adding that the station got around a 50% markup on a 20/20 spot. “We put it to the sales guys, and they jumped at it.”

Hoffman, who runs WSB Atlanta, says “a healthy majority” of affiliates have taken part in IES. (Neither he nor the network would put an exact number on it.) Hoffman is clearly pushing for more involvement. “I’d like to believe 100% is possible,” he says. “My position is to seek total group buy-in. If we get there, that’s the tall cotton.”

While unanimity may be a long shot, the affiliates appear to favor the concept. Some are hoping ABC sweetens the offer by making spots available in bigticket events, such as the Oscars, or other dayparts where the station happens to be strongest. “If they’d come with Good Morning America in the package, we’d have done backflips,” said Mike Murphy, WBMA Birmingham president/GM.

John Rouse, ABC Affiliate Relations senior VP, says all of ABC’s TV events are at least on the table for IES, and that the network is working with the affiliates’ task force on making the initiative a two-way street—with stations making their spots available to ABC when national demand runs higher.

“We’re always looking for ways to strengthen our relationship,” says Rouse. “There’s real trust on both sides to find positive outcomes.”

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