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Fox Affiliates Pleased With Network's Plan For Limited Streaming

Fox affiliates mostly expressed satisfaction with the news that their partner network is limiting the Fox programming that can be viewed for free online.

While the station folks will never be fans of online viewing, they appreciate Fox taking steps to keep top-shelf programming, such as American Idol and The X Factor, exclusive.

"I like that they're delaying people's ability to watch online, which reduces the incentive of watching it on broadcast on our air," says Bill Lamb, president and general manager at WDRB Louisville. "The more limits [to online viewing] the better, as far as I'm concerned."

On August 15, video distributors, including Dish Network, that are part of Fox's authentication service will have an eight day window to stream new Fox programs online, starting the day after their debut. Viewers who do not subscribe to a participating subscription TV service, including Hulu's, will be able to watch the shows online eight days after their premieres.

Fox affiliates did not view the news as a major shakeup to their business; several were not aware of the development when contacted today. But the majority nonetheless said it was a positive thing. "It's good business to try to protect their content," said one Fox GM who asked not to be named. "It's in their best interest to protect the affiliates if they want us to keep writing big checks to the network."

Relations between Fox and its affiliates have at times been strained as the network pushes hard for retrans cash as part of stations' affiliation agreements.

Fox affiliates board chairman Brian Brady appeared to have a mixed reaction to Fox's announcement but would not comment on the record. The affiliates board did not have input in Fox's online authentication model, he said.

Affiliates are no fans of streaming network shows, as each consumer of a streamed program is, at least theoretically, one less viewer to watch the show--and the local spots--on the station's air. "I'd love for on demand to just go away," says one GM.

Fox's announcement is seen as a blow to Hulu's free offerings. Hulu has benefited from viewers who have missed a favorite episode of a show when it ran in pattern. Hulu, owned by NBC Universal, Fox Entertainment and ABC, among others, is said to be for sale.

Moving away from free, universally available online content is something of a core value at Fox parent News Corp., which keeps Wall Street Journal articles behind a pay wall for non-subscribers. "We are continually looking at opportunities to provide our pay television distributors with content and products that enhance the value of pay television to subscribers," said Michael Hopkins, Fox president of affiliate sales and marketing, in a statement.
It will be determined if the other major networks follow suit. Brian Lawlor, chairman of the NBC affiliates board, said the NBC affiliates are not discussing authenticating web viewing with the network at this time.

His counterpart at the ABC body, Bill Hoffman, said online viewing that's not credited to stations remains a "general concern," though not an A-1 priority in network-affiliate relations today. "We're concerned that the off air experience impacts negatively to the extent that people watch on air," he says. "I'd like to think that all broadcasters are in that camp."

CBS affiliates board chairman Wayne Daugherty said he brought up the streaming programs matter with the network a few weeks back. "CBS has no plans to do anything of that order," said Daugherty, who added that it was not a hot-button topic for the board.

If viewing outside of the station's air must take place, affiliates are pleased to see the network check some ID's at the door. "I really view this as a good thing," says John Tupper, owner of Fox affiliates KXND-KNXD in Minot-Bismarck, N.D. "It helps ensure that the broadcast platform survives and thrives."