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Exclusive: Iger Makes Rare Appearance at ABC Affils Meeting

The ABC affiliates met in Los Angeles earlier this week, both amongst themselves, and with a network lineup that included ABC News president Ben Sherwood; Anne Sweeney, co-chair, Disney Media Networks, and president, Disney/ABC Television Group; GMA anchor George Stephanopolous; World News anchor Diane Sawyer; and, for the first time in several years, Disney Co. chairman and CEO Bob Iger.

Iger addressed the affiliates for about 30 minutes at Disney's campus, and the affiliates, around 200 of them, according to ABC, appreciated the gesture. "I was thrilled to see Bob Iger," said Steve Wheeler, president and general manager of WSIL in Harrisburg, Illinois. "I thought he gave a succinct and straightforward set of remarks."

The May 21-22 meetings were the first for Dave Boylan as affiliates board chairman, the WPLG Miami chief who suceeded Bill Hoffman. "I think the general feeling among affiliates, both behind closed doors and with the network, is that they're happy with ABC," he said, singling out the major strides GMA has made as a big source of satisfaction.

Other speakers included ABC Entertainment president Paul Lee, ESPN executive VP Norby Williamson, executive VP of digital Albert Cheng, and Katie Couric, live from London, where she was meeting with the queen.

Catching a glimpse of the network's new shows at its upfront presentation in New York May 15, the ABC affiliates both expressed a long held hope for the network to improve the last hour of prime, and optimism that new shows such as Nashville and 666 Park Avenue might get them there. "People feel good about the shows that are coming back as building blocks," Boylan said about the likes of Revenge and Once Upon a Time.

The network and its affiliates also discussed the Inventory Exchange System (IES), where both parties can buy and sell spots to the other when it makes optimal economic sense. IES debuted in November 2010 and had substantial buy-in from affiliates. Boylan said the exchange will be in place for, but not limited to, the 2012 political season. The parties are also discussing shifting network or local spots to higher rated parts of programs when appropriate, though they wouldn't offer specifics, saying they were in the "exploration process."

"It really allows us to be much more nimble as a team," said John Rouse, ABC affiliate relations senior VP, "when the opportunities arise."

Both sides sounded a positive note about working together on best monetizing digital viewing as that segment grows. "The dialogue we're having with ABC is, we'll work on this together," said Boylan. "We've been bringing local and national together for, what, 50 years, and as we reach people on new screens, we'll continue to do it together."

While buoyed by growth in mornings, Boylan said there's plenty more work to do, for the network and affiliates alike. "We're not in first place, and that's the goal," he said. "We're really focused on first place and I know the network is too. The affiliates feel the team is in place to get us there."