AT&T 3 Provides Outlet For Broadcast Syndicators

Taking advantage of a paucity of independent broadcast stations in the market, AT&T Broadband local-origination channel in Boston has acquired the rights to a number of popular off-network and syndicated series typically seen on over-the-air outlets.

The acquisition of such shows as Martin, Family Matters, Mork and Mindy
and Happy Days— along with local high-school and sports programming — has helped establish the AT&T 3 network as a viable viewing option for consumers, AT&T Broadband vice president of original programming R.B. Lerch said.

The service, which launched in March 2000 and is currently in 1.5 million households, was initially created to offer locally produced public affairs and sports programming from the Boston area, as well as some syndicated fare. But many of Boston's TV broadcasters are committed to carrying network programming, so syndicators had no other viable vehicle to distribute popular off-network comedies and series, said Lerch.

As a result, such shows as Mad TV, Real World, Real TV, Street Smarts, and vintage skeins like Hawaii 5-0, Hogan's Heroes, The Streets of San Francisco
and The Honeymooners
have all found a home on cable, rather than over-the-air.

"Syndicators are building a new association with the market that they've never had before," Lerch said.

While the network has paid a fee for certain shows, Lerch said most of the deals are done on a barter basis, in which AT&T retains significant ad inventory, keeping acquisition fees to a minimum.

But AT&T 3 is more than just a repository for syndicated programming. Originally produced programming represents 30 to 40 hours a week of the network's round-the-clock schedule, said Lerch —most of it in primetime.

On the original-programming side, the network produces a nightly high-school sports report sponsored by Dunkin' Donuts; Chowdah, a weekly local news and information show highlighting the area's history; and New England Political Review, which explores key state issues in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, Lerch said.

AT&T 3 also distributes live Harvard college football games, as well as Boston Breakers Women's United Soccer Association (WUSA) matches.

The combination of syndicated programming and original fare has helped the network generate ratings that are "very competitive" with many basic networks. "We spend less money per subscriber than just about all the cable networks and generate household ratings that match or beat a majority of networks," said Lerch, who would not provide specific Nielsen data.

He said the system has no immediate plans to distribute the channel beyond AT&T's subscribers, but hasn't ruled that prospect out in the future.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.