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NAB: Fox Affiliates Seek to Sustain Network Momentum

Related: NAB Show 2015 Complete Coverage

Buoyed by the runaway success of Empire, Fox is intent on putting forth a more robust 52-week schedule, said station chiefs at the closed door April 14 affiliates meeting, with sports, awards shows and other special event programming serving as tentpoles. The affiliates got a peek at the network’s development plans, and a sense that Fox is making the kind of investments required to pull off the strategy. “It looks like they sat down with a calendar and said, 'how many holes do we have to fill, and what do we fill them with?'” said Steve Pruett, VP/COO of Sinclair’s television group and former Fox affiliates board chair. “I came away with a lot of hope.”

Indeed, while network-affiliate mistrust besmirched this same annual meeting in recent years, those on the affiliate side seemed mostly optimistic, walking out of the meeting room with a renewed sense of Fox’s commitment to the national-local distribution strategy. “What a difference a year makes,” said Jeff Rosser, Fox affiliates board chairman. “I’m very encouraged and very excited.”

The affiliates board had met April 13 and discussed how to market its TV Everywhere product, and how to make the most of Empire’s runaway success. The affiliates body meeting a day later also touched on non-linear programming, such as VOD and mobile, and how to maximize opportunities beyond the first screen.

Fox’s presenters included Dana Walden, chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group; Eric Shanks, Fox Sports president and COO; and David Madden, entertainment president. Shanks offered a peek at upcoming sports programming, such as the women’s World Cup and U.S. Open. The affiliates caught a glimpse at the Rob Lowe comedy The Grinder. “The comedy is some of the best I’ve seen,” said Phil Hurley, Gannett senior VP. “The programming looked outstanding.”

After the network presentation, the affiliates spoke among themselves for another 45 minutes. While Empire endowed Fox with considerable goodwill from its partner stations, Rosser says another hit or two would further bless the partnership. “If I were to pick one network to acknowledge poor ratings as being unacceptable, I would rely on Fox,” said Rosser. “They are absolutely determined to turn things around.”

There’s a sense of momentum among both affiliates and the network, he added. “People seem to be more confident,” said Rosser.

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.