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CMT Takes Miss America’s Crown

Cable will serve as TV’s walkway for the Miss America pageant, as Country Music Television last week reached a deal to carry the beauty contest for at least the next two years.

The agreement, which includes an option that could keep the pageant on CMT through 2011, also extends to other Viacom Inc.-owned MTV Networks that will offer Miss America-oriented programming.

For the 77.9 million-subscriber CMT, the agreement represents major ratings and brand-building opportunities. While the 84-year-old pageant’s viewership has declined in recent years — the network drew 9.8 million viewers on ABC last year, prompting the broadcaster to drop the show — it should provide a significant ratings boost for CMT, which averaged a 0.3 primetime rating and 237,000 households during second-quarter 2005.

As part of the deal, CMT will air the annual Miss America event live from Atlantic City, N.J., in January, a departure from its traditional September date.

The country-music network will also repeat the show several times, potentially exposing it to more viewers than did the one-time only airing on broadcast television, said Art McMaster, president and CEO of the Miss America Organization.

In addition, sister network VH1 will air programming in support of the pageant, leading up to the first telecast on CMT in January.

“One of the difficulties we’ve had with our network partners in past years is that we’re only on TV one night a year and that just wasn’t cutting the cake at all with us,” McMaster said. “Going with CMT, we’ll be on TV with them, with MTV and with VH1. It’s all that additional programming opportunities that we’ll have for the first time in our history.”

CMT vice president of programming and development Paul Villadolid said ratings for the show could approach the network record-setting 2.4 million-household mark generated by the April 11 CMT Awards.

He added that the show would become one of the network’s programming franchises.

“The themes that run constant through Miss America also run constant through our network and our country-music songs,” Villadolid said. “People are interested in small-town values, the pursuit of the American dream and the quest of the underdog to win big, all of which is part of the Miss America pageant.”

WE: Women’s Entertainment, which was in the hunt for pageant rights, didn’t return phone calls.