Promote more, preempt less

Promotion and preemption: Do a lot of the first and less of the latter. That was a key message that UPN executives delivered to affiliate managers last week in a round of regional meetings in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco.

Steve Carlston, head of affiliate relations for the network, asked affiliates to make the network, not syndication shows, the top promotion priority for the 2001-02 season. Ideally, he wants every station to air at least one UPN promotion spot every half-hour of the day, and he wants the spots to run first in their pod for maximum exposure.

"We really want the affiliates to push us," he said, "and make UPN the very first priority. In the past, it might have been Spin City or Judge Judy
that was the priority. But we want them to look at the network as the opportunity for growth. This is our breakout year. It's a buyer-friendly schedule beyond any we've had in the past."

UPN COO Adam Ware said the network is formulating cross-promotion plans with cable networks both in and outside the Viacom group. MTV will likely promote the new Star Trek: Enterprise series, he said, noting that this season's Voyager
finale got a huge boost in teen viewers thanks to MTV promotion. UPN and Fox-owned FX are also talking about jointly promoting Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which moves to UPN this fall and starts an off-network run on FX.

The Sci Fi Channel will also promote Buffy
and/or Enterprise
this fall, Ware said, the result of a cross-promotion deal for which UPN had promoted that network's series Farscape.

As for the Buffy
move, Ware sees an opportunity for a new promotion campaign. "This whole notion that Buffy's dead we can make into Buffy's reborn on UPN," he said, likening the opportunity to the "Who Shot J.R.?" campaign CBS did with Dallas
two decades ago.

Preemption seems to be an issue for every network and its affiliates. Indeed, it's one of the key gripes noted in the complaint against the Big Four networks filed with the FCC by the Network Affiliated Stations Alliance. But Ware's pitch was simply that preemptions cost UPN about $10 million a year—money that would be put to better use promoting the network or developing programming.

Dave Hanna, president of WUPV(TV) Ashland, Va., and chairman of the UPN affiliate board, said affiliates understand. "We need to help the network launch this new schedule. They've given us beachheads on four nights, and we have to help get it properly launched." He said his station will have record revenues this year. The new schedule "will give me the ability to sell at prime rates I've never seen before."

The network also reported that a new affiliation agreement had been reached in St. Louis, where the network previously has not had a full-time affiliate.

The new deal is with WHSL(TV), a Home Shopping Network affiliate controlled by Roberts Broadcasting. UPN will continue its secondary affiliate status on WB affiliate KPLR-TV until the HSN affiliation expires in 18 months. The Roberts deal is interesting because it gives that company a firmly planted foot in both the UPN and WB camps.

St. Louis has been one of the biggest holes in UPN's lineup. But the network has battled back on the distribution front since Sinclair Broadcast Group pulled a handful of key affiliates and placed them with The WB in 1998. In February '98, when the Sinclair switch took effect, UPN's U.S. household coverage sank to 71.5%. With St. Louis added, UPN's coverage will now top 87%.