Affiliates of the Three networks are upset at the poor quality of Saturday and Sunday afternoon sports programming the webs slapped onto their schedules during the February 1995 sweeps.
The sports shows translated into Nielsen shares that were so abysmal that, for the first time ever, basic cable as a category beat the four networks in a given time period – in this case, from 1 to 4:30 p.m. on the four February-sweeps weekends. Although it reaches only about two-thirds of the broadcast-TV audience, basic cable averaged a 14.8 rating and 41 share during these time periods compared to a 14.3 and 40 share for affiliates of the Big Three and Fox.
“These numbers really don’t surprise me,” says Dave Poltrack, executive VP of CBS. Poltrack cites the lack of big sports events in February, a period post Super Bowl and pre-NCAA college basketball. “Our affiliates end up running a lot of infomercials” on Saturday and Sunday in February in between network sports programs, he says.
Janeen Bjork, VP and director of programming for Seltel, a TV-station rep firm, says affiliates have stopped preempting their networks on weekend afternoons even for poorly performing sports shows because compensation payments to affils are tied to carriage of network programming.
“Some cable networks counterprogram these sports shows with strong movies and series,” says Jack Fentress, VP and director of programming for Petry National, another rep firm. Fentress cites USA and TBS as two networks in particular that unleash some of their blockbuster movies on weekend afternoons.
But most observers don’t expect the Big Three to push any panic buttons. Lou Dennig, VP and director of programming for the Blair TV reppery, says the networks are not likely to start scheduling celebrity-studded “Battle of the Network Stars” like psuedo-sports competitions because “the license fees would be too high” for what would probably be minimal Nielsen gains in the timeslots.