Declaring that it is “out of step with the competition,” Warner Bros. has altered a number of key elements in its fifth network game plan.
Acknowledging that Paramount/Chris-Craft’s weblet blueprint is more station friendly, WB Network chief exec and architect Jamie Kellner said Monday the studio would:
- Slow the pace of its primetime programming rollout, which had initially been slated to begin with one night nextsummer and reach seven nights by 1998;
- Delay the launch of 5-6 p.m. and noon-2 p.m. programming blocks indefinitely, concentrating on primetime and kids’ shows;
- Launch the WEB — the cable portion of the network intended to cover “white areas” (roughly 25% of the country) where there are no small market independent stations available — in year three instead of year two;
- De-emphasize the WB Network’s brand identity in “white areas,” where shows will be cleared on Big Three or Fox affils in non-prime dayparts on an ad-hoc syndicated basis;
- Lower a portion of the upfront “reverse compensation” fees that affiliates will have to pay the network.
The moves by Kellner proved surprising, since he had earlier touted brand identity as being crucial to the success of the venture and degraded the Paramount Network for its ad-hoc plan in small markets.
The ex-Fox Broadcasting prez said he believes in building a web “from the ground up,” but said it will take longer.
“You need a dedicated distribution system,” he said.”You can’t do it with an ad-hoc arrangement. It’s still a part of the plan.” But Kellner said he was forced to reconfigure his plans after stations — particularly those in the Midwest — balked at the studio-dominated network’s attempts to program the lucrative 5-6 p.m. early fringe block with off-net sitcoms and the afternoon hours with off-net drama fare.
“We’ve been in daily dialogue with (station) groups,” Kellner said. “All of them have encouraged us to focus on primetime (as well as kids) and not add as much programming as quickly.”
In order to get cable channels in white areas, Kellner said the weblet would need to fill many dayparts with programming.
Without broadcast affils to carry the shows in pattern between noon-2 p.m. and 5-6 p.m., however, the cable channels are unnecessary. WB affils in the smaller white area markets will promote the afternoon and early fringe ad-hoc programs on a show-by-show basis rather than as WB Net fare, Kellner says.
To start up the WEB portion of the weblet in year three, Kellner said WB will have to win over broadcast affils with its primetime and kids fare.
WB intends to use the Fox rollout plan as a model. It took 18 months before Fox reached a third night of primetime programming, and more than five years to reach seven nights.
Kellner had initially told stations the weblet would reach four nights of shows within one year, but he said Par’s entrance into the network game hindered WB’s program development plans.
In terms of “reverse compensation,” Kellner said stations will now pay less to become part of the weblet.
Kellner said he is still “running financial models” to determine the amount of the decrease, but a published report noted that WB had dropped the upfront fee from 15% to 10% of the projected overall added revenue derived from the weblet. The studio, however, would reportedly continue to take 25% of the incremental increase in primetime revenue.
Sources involved in the Par/Chris-Craft venture characterized WB’s actions as a desperation move to stay in the race to create what many believe will be the nation’s fifth and final web.
Although WB was an early favorite to win, it now appears that Par has the advantage following the signing last week of WUAB, the Stephen J. Cannell-owned station in Cleveland (Daily Variety, Nov. 11) as well as WPWR in Chicago and WXMT in Nashville.
Both groups have coverage in roughly 33% of the country. Par expects to announce several major affiliate signings within the next few days, while WB reportedly is close to signing an affiliate in a top-15 market (probably where Par/Chris-Craft either owns a strong station or affiliate).
Par execs vehemently denied rumors Monday that they are offering to sell at least two of their stations to groups that affiliate with its network in key markets. And they dismissed reports that Cannell agreed to sign up for Par in Cleveland for a deal to provide a series for the network.