General managers at the various MyNetworkTV (MNT) affiliates around the country seem guardedly enthused about the News Corp.-owned network’s decision to become a “programming service” next fall. Announced late yesterday, the development will see MNT provide its 180 affiliates with 10 hours of programming a week, including Law & Order: Criminal Intent. MNT currently supplies 12 hours a week; affiliates will program Saturday nights themselves come fall.
“We’re very happy about it,” says Bill Applegate, VP/General Manager at Raycom’s Cleveland duopoly WOIO/WUAB. “Getting Saturday nights back is terrific, the overall inventory spread stays the same, and Law & Order is going to play well here.”
Several MyNetworkTV GMs said it was too soon to decide whether the network’s strategic overhaul was a good thing for the affiliates. But most were pleased to hear that an established program from the Law & Order franchise will air on their stations. Some suggest it’s much more advertiser-friendly than gritty unscripted programs like Jail, and will encourage viewers to sample MNT. “From the novelas [at launch] to the current lineup, the biggest challenge has been how to make shows stand out in a crowded marketplace,” says KTTV/KCOP Los Angeles VP/General Manager Kevin Hale. “I think the new plan helps that substantially.” (KTTV/KCOP and MNT share a parent company in News Corp.)
MNT President Greg Meidel said the network would see “substantial cost savings” in shifting from a traditional network to what he termed a “distribution system” for both first-run and off-network programming. Some affiliates say anything that helps MyNetworkTV ultimately helps the partner stations. KCTV/KSMO Kansas City VP/General Manager Kirk Black is thus far neutral about MNT’s change of plans, but hopes it’ll help the network get stronger programming the rest of the week. “If this helps them stay solvent and stay in the Monday-Friday business, I’m all for it,” says the Meredith GM.
While its ratings remain modest, MNT affiliate managers are quick to point out the strides the network has made since it debuted in the fall of 2006 on a clutch of former WB and UPN stations with a lineup of underperforming telenovelas. Snagging WWE Friday Night SmackDown for Fridays after its run on The CW has helped lure young males to the network; MNT will keep it in its regular place in the fall. KDFW/KDFI Dallas VP/General Manager Kathy Saunders says wrestling posted higher ratings in January than it did the previous January on The CW. (Like the Los Angeles duopoly, KDFW/KDFI is owned by Fox.). “WWE just keeps getting stronger,” she says. “We want to see that continue to grow.”
Affiliates now have to start brainstorming what to air on Saturday nights come September. KDFI may go with movies, while KSMO’s Black is considering sports or CBS procedurals such as Without a Trace. Applegate is pondering a number of choices for WUAB. “It presents all kinds of interesting options,” he says.
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