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WeB snares ‘Rosie,’ ‘ER’

NEW ORLEANS – Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution has cut a potentially groundbreaking deal to provide its hit firstrun talker “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and the off-network rerun rights to “Friends” and “ER” to the WB Network’s cable distribution service, the WeB.

The deal is yet another example of how the divisions of media congloms are beginning to cooperate with one another. To fill the channel when its netlet fare is not on, WB Network needs programming – which will now come in part from its sister company.

The WeB is the WB netlet’s effort to reach areas where it has no broadcast station outlet. The markets being targeted for the WeB are those ranked 100 through 212.

The plan is to have broadcasters in those markets create a cable channel that would carry the WB’s program lineup, as well as other shows. The tentative launch date for WeB is the first quarter of next year.

In another attempt at synergy, Time Warner has been encouraging its own cable systems to make channels available for the new WeB.

Currently, the WB reaches many of these smaller markets through its partner Tribune Broadcasting’s superstation WGN. However, the netlet is looking to stop relying on WGN for carriage outside of its Chicago base by the end of this year.

A channel such as WeB will need more than WB fare to fill a 24-hour sked; that’s where Warner Bros.’ syndication arm comes in. WeB has secured the rights not only to “Rosie O’Donnell,” but to reruns of the studio’s hit shows “Friends” and “ER.”

Since “Rosie” already is cleared on broadcast stations in the majority of the country, the WeB cable channels will only be able to carry the talker at night – most likely at 10 p.m., but no later. Also, the WeB will not air the same episode that stations have carried earlier in the day.

Enough to go around?

WBDTD president Dick Robertson pointed out Wednesday in New Orleans that, in many cases, the broadcast outlet that has “Rosie” in daytime will be the one partnering with cable operators and the WB to create WeB.

However, broadcasters that carry the talker and are not part of the WeB may be irked about the WeB’s getting a second run of the shows the stations thought they had exclusively from the Warner syndication arm.

As for “Friends” and “ER,” WBDTD will make no effort to sell those shows to broadcast stations in markets where there is a WeB cable channel. Robertson said the license fees from markets that size are often small and the studio can do as well, if not better, with barter advertising.

Both off-net sitcoms are available for reruns in fall 1998. “Friends” is being stripped in syndication, with stations having the option to double-run it. “ER” is available for two weekend runs, with the weekday strip rights having been sold to Time Warner-owned Turner Broadcasting for its cable outlets.

“Every television station in the country would love to have ‘Friends,’ ‘ER’ and ‘The Rosie O’Donnell Show’ on their air,” WB head Jamie Kellner said.

“For the WeB, which plans to launch 100 new local cable TV stations in the next two years, this demonstrates our commitment to make these cable stations very competitive as soon as possible,” Kellner continued.

“The WeB will open up new shelf space for product in markets 100-plus,” said Robertson. “This is a unique opportunity for Warner Bros. to exploit our programs in a new and ultimately more profitable way.”

To make it even more lucrative, Robertson’s syndication arm will double the load of barter time it has to sell for ‘Friends,’ compared to its standard broadcast deals for programming.

As for other WBDTD product, Robertson didn’t rule out eventually trying to clear its new hourlong strip “The People’s Court,” with ex-New York mayor Ed Koch, on the WeB.

While some other syndicators have endorsed the concept of selling to the WeB, stations have expressed concern about losing exclusivity on shows such as “Rosie O’Donnell.”

‘Embrace the future’

:Robertson said the TV industry can either “stick its head in the sand or embrace the future,” adding that if WBDTD does not get involved in this kind of windowing, someone else will.

Robertson said the local WeB channels will become “the highest-rated cable network on those systems.”

To entice cable operators to find room for the WeB, the WB marketing plan calls for cablers to receive 7.5% to 10% of the gross revenue derived by the channels, depending on channel position.

Station group owners who are working with WB on launching the WeB include Benedek Broadcasting, Retlaw Broadcasting, Federal Broadcasting, Quincy Broadcasting and Lamco.

As of now, Kellner says WeB has 63 markets prepping a channel that will reach 5 million homes and 60% of the region the netlet needs to cover.

WB is in talks with Benedek senior executive Doug Gealy about coming on board to run the WeB.

WB also unveiled two new broadcast affiliates at its NATPE affiliate confab Wednesday. Sinclair Broadcasting’s independent stations WVTV Milwaukee and WTTO Birmingham have inked affiliation deals with the netlet.

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