Buying Binge Beckons

Station operators will have no problem writing big checks at this year’s NATPE show thanks to the continuing rise in advertising revenue. The problem will be determining what is worth a big check.

But while stations have the money to spend, their needs are different. Because of all the affiliate changes that have rocked the top-50 markets, many operators will have to rethink their buying strategies.

There are also concerns, as always, about the oversaturation of talk shows and whether the market will support all the new shows being pitched to stations.

“The issue is not money,” says Alan Bell, president, broadcast division, Freedom Newspapers. “There is too much undifferentiated product (right now). Originality will count for everything.

“Now that we have seen someone compete against ‘Oprah,’ we’re going to see a flood of imitations till it gets to the point that we end up with a 2-year-old girl doing a talk show for her peers. The production community keeps a watchful eye on what works and rushes in to cover it, and that is the seed of their own destruction,” Bell adds.

Counters Mort Marcus, president of Buena Vista Television: “The stations are overcrowded with talk, yet they are the ones who buy the new talk shows. They want something different, then they get nervous about buying something different and going against the grain.”

“We’re a long way from having enough hits,” says Greg Meidel, president of Twentieth Television.

The massive amount of affiliate switches, brought on by the Fox New World Communications deal that saw 12 Big Three network affils defect to the weblet, is forcing station operators to rethink strategies and what holes they need to fill.

For stations that have switched from CBS, NBC and ABC to Fox, they now find themselves with time slots to fill in the afternoon and latenight. Meanwhile, Fox affiliates that have switched to a Big Three network may find themselves with an abundance of programming and no place to put it.

In prime access, for example, former Fox affiliates or indie stations now affiliated with the Big Three must comply with the primetime access rule that prohibits off-network programming in the hour before primetime. That is forcing stations to reshuffle their early fringe and prime access lineups, and hurting their audience flow.

Kids programming is another genre that has been clearly negatively affected by the affiliate switches and the launch of two new networks.

Most new Fox affiliates have strong news departments and want talk for their lead-in, while the former Fox stations now with the Big Three are building local news programming to complement national news. They’re getting out of the kids biz.

“The kids’ market is very tough,” says Jed Simmons, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Hanna Barbera. “We went out last year with two good shows and thought we had great product but found it was tough to clear.”

While the Fox affiliates that have become Big Three affils may cut down on their buying, indies and Fox affiliates are increasing their spending habits. “As indies, we need to take on an affiliate profile,” says Renaissance Communications chief executive Mike Finkelstein.

At least for now, stations should have the money to remake their image. The Television Bureau of Advertising is predicting that local advertising will be up 5% to 7% in 1995. Through the first three quarters of 1994, TVB reported local ad sales at $4.5 billion, a 13% increase over 1993. It’s a similar story in the spot market where spending for the first nine months of ’94 is at $4.5 billion, up 15% from 1993.

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