Managers at Fox affiliates largely treated the news that
Conan O'Brien is moving to TBS, and not their own late-night air, with a sigh
of relief. As rumors of Fox installing an O'Brien-hosted late night show picked
up, the affiliates were mostly pessimistic on the concept, as they're locked
into syndication contracts in that time slot, or air local news, or both. Both
news and syndicated shows offer a more lucrative revenue model than a network
"We're a local TV station," said KPTV-KPDX Portland
VP/General Manager Patrick McCreery. "We would've hated to give [late local
news] up, and leave the people who want that out in the wind."
The news of O'Brien's shift to TBS was the talk of the
NAB-RTDNA show in Las Vegas.
Most broadcast leaders got the news after exiting the Las Vegas Hilton
following NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith's opening address. One exec at a Fox
affiliate uttered a hearty "Amen!" upon hearing the news.
There was substantial talk of Fox announcing an O'Brien show
at the network's upfront presentation next month in New York, but the network would've had to do
some considerable legwork to get affiliates on board. "I never thought it was a
good fit on Fox," says Prime Cities Broadcasting President John Tupper, a
former Fox affiliates board chairman. "It represented a lot of economic
problems for affiliates who run syndication at that time, and do pretty well
Fox affiliates chairman Brian Brady was not available for
comment on short notice. The Fox affiliates board meets today in Vegas, and the
affiliates body meets tomorrow.
Many in the station world TV view today's development as a
win for local programming.
"It just didn't make financial sense for a lot of
affiliates, especially the strong affiliates," says WGHP Greensboro
President/General Manager Karen Adams. "Displacing heritage local news and
high profile off-network programming--there wasn't anything about it that made
financial sense for some stations."
When O'Brien was still in play, many Fox affiliate managers
were doubtful the former Tonight Show host had the broad appeal to carry a late
night talker, though several acknowledged that it may be some time before
another A-list host hits the free agent market. The affiliate managers are
curious how a new O'Brien show will affect their viewing at 11 p.m.; most
seeming to think their syndicated shows and local news will hold up fine. "I
don't think Conan is much threat to Fox on TBS," says Tupper.
Adams agrees. "The
cable households just aren't anywhere near the broadcast households," she
If there's any disappointment among Fox affiliates with
today's news, it's that another marquee broadcast brand has made the move to
cable. NAB President Smith's address this morning brought up the issue of
retransmission consent revenue, and urged networks and affiliates to work
together on the issue. "There's never been a more important time for us to be
together in this Association," he said.
Broadcasters say retrans is essential for them to continue
to air big-draw programming that's increasingly shifting to cable and its
subscription model. "There's no question that there's a continuation of program
migration," says Tupper. "Programs will follow the money. More and more of this
will continue to happen as long as there's a wide gap between cable and
broadcast [in terms of subscription revenue.]"
The Conan rumors seemingly laid to rest, the Fox affiliates
said they'll continue to concentrate on the programming matters within their
control. "We'll continue to do what it is we do, which is offer viewers
compelling programming," said LIN Executive V.P. Scott Blumenthal. "We wish
Conan luck and we'll see what happens."
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.