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MyNetworkTV Primed for Growth

Apparently the third time's a charm for MyNetworkTV. The network unveiled its latest iteration, as a syndication-based programming service, in the fall, and the new primetime model is attracting a decent audience.

"We are up 28% in viewers compared to a year ago," says MyNetworkTV Executive VP Paul Franklin. "These programs are more recognizable, more brandable and more promotable."

The News Corp.-owned network's audiences remain small; season-to-date, it's averaging 2.3 million total viewers, but that's up substantially over last year's 1.8 million. MyTV executives are renewing affiliate contracts with stations, which seem happy with the new model. "We are pleased with MyNetworkTV's new program lineup-the schedule and the performance," says WAWS Jacksonville General Manager Jeff Whitson, who airs MyTV on the Newport station's digital tier.

Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for the Fox and MyTV stations, is also pleased with the performance of several syndicated daytime, access and late-night schedules on the Fox-owned MyTV stations. "We've absolutely seen an increased salability in prime with this lineup," he says.

MyNetworkTV sprang into existence in January 2006, when Warner Bros. and CBS announced that their respective "netlets"-The WB and UPN-would be combined into The CW. Most WB affiliates became CW affiliates, leaving UPN outlets in the cold. News Corp. created MyNetworkTV on the fly to serve its UPN stations, launching it in September 2006.

The network first tried the telenovelas that its syndication division, Twentieth Television, had been developing for syndication. Those ran as five-night-a-week soap operas in prime and quickly failed.

In fall 2008, MyTV went to inexpensive unscripted programs, such as Jail, Street Patrol, Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed and World's Funniest Moments. Those also failed to bring in much of an audience.

This fall, MyTV launched what it calls a programming service. That essentially was built around syndicated programming, movies and the WWE's Smackdown!, which the network acquired after The CW dropped it in fall 2008.

MyTV's primetime schedule looks like this: A double-run of NBC Universal's Law & Order: Criminal Intent airs Monday nights; Twentieth's Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? and NBCU's Deal or No Deal run on Tuesday nights; a double-run of Twentieth's The Unit, which CBS canceled in May 2009, airs Wednesday nights; movies run on Thursdays; and Smackdown! owns Friday nights.

While Smackdown! may not have the audience it did on The CW, it turned out to be a great building block for MyTV, drawing viewers and giving the fledgling service a strong promotional platform. Smackdown! is even among viewers and down 7% among adults 18-49 this year, not a bad drop compared to typical network year-to-year declines.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the network is up significantly among both viewers and adults 18-49. On Monday, Criminal Intent has improved the network by 64% in viewers and 29% among adults 18-49, adding an average of 700,000 viewers per night.

On Tuesday, the two-hour game show block has jumped 40% among viewers and 5% in adults 18-49. That improvement is largely due to 5th Grader, which is averaging 2.6 million viewers compared to Deal or No Deal's 1.7 million.

MyNetworkTV executives are very bullish on the Jeff Foxworthy-hosted 5th Grader, which not only airs on MyTV prime but also in syndication and on CMT. While the show's syndication ratings are mediocre at best, its performance on MyTV should keep it on the air. Meanwhile, Deal is on the bubble, according to many station and syndication executives. NBCU had no comment.

On Wednesday, The Unit has improved the night among viewers by 110%, averaging 2.1 million viewers versus last year's 1 million, and among adults 18-49 by 43%.

The one piece that's not working is the Thursday night movie, which is down 6% among viewers and 21% among adults 18-49. Look for that to be replaced come fall.

"This year at NATPE, I'll be both a buyer and a seller," says Greg Meidel, who heads both MyNetworkTV and Twentieth Television.

Franklin says MyTV is finally on course. "We need to continue to make the distributors aware that this platform exists and it's unlike any platform they've had for their programs before," he says. "We've righted the ship; we've found our way. All of these things are working."

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Paige Albiniak
Paige Albiniak

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.