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Myerson to spin WeB on cable

The WB netlet has tapped Russell H. Myerson to head the WeB, its new localized cable distribution system for markets ranked 100 and smaller. At the same time, Benedek Broadcasting is the first station group to officially sign a 10-year agreement to become a partner in the WeB.

Myerson is the first key executive hire for the fledgling system, which the WB hopes to launch next fall as a way to get distribution for the network in small markets where there are few or no broadcast stations available to affiliate with the WB.

Most recently senior vice president of operations at Sony’s Game Show Network, Myerson has been named senior VP and general manager of the WeB, reporting to WB CEO Jamie Kellner. Prior to the Game Show Network, Myerson spent eight years as director of programming at Media General Broadcast Group. In 1994, he was chairman of the board and CEO of NATPE Intl.

Meanwhile, Benedek, the largest station group in markets 100 to 211, has inked its long-anticipated deal with the WeB. Twenty of its stations in 22 markets will essentially run the local WeB cable channels in a manner similar to a local marketing agreement.

The Benedek stations will sell the advertising inventory for the WeB cable channels, will promote the channels on their stations and will take a large cut, approximately 45%, of the local ad revenues. Cable operators that carry the channels are expected to take about 10% of revenues, with the WB getting the other 45%. WeB needs station partners because cable operators don’t have the capability and experience to sell the ad time.

Benedek is currently negotiating carriage agreements with TCI and Time Warner cable systems, which are expected to carry the WeB channels in their markets by next fall. About 36% of the cabled homes in Benedek markets are served by TCI and Time Warner cable systems, and Benedek will have to strike agreements with other cable operators in the rest of its markets for the system to work.

In total, 1.7 million homes receive cable in Benedek’s markets, making the total national reach for the WeB 2%. The entire 100-plus market areas reach about 15% of the country. Benedek is committing 12 CBS, six ABC and four NBC affiliates to partner with the WeB in markets such as Peoria, Ill.; Santa Barbara; Wheeling, W.V.; and Lansing, Mich.

While Benedek is the first group to officially sign on, the WB has tentative agreements with about 80 stations.

The WeB programming will be a combination of exclusive WB Network programming and syndicated fare, and it will run in pattern in all markets. Already, Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution has agreed to run back-to-back “Friends” reruns during the access hour leading into primetime on the WeB; “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” will run at 10 p.m.; and off-net “ER” will run on weekends. Sources say “The Drew Carey Show” reruns will also probably be telecast on the WeB.

While the WeB system will use a new technology that allows it to run local ads and possibly local newscasts, the concept is very similar to Foxnet, which Fox used to enhance its distribution before it could get affiliates in small markets. Programming will be beamed via satellite from Los Angeles to the cablers.

Because only 72% of homes in markets 100 and smaller are cabled, and because cable ratings tend to be lower than the already low-rated emerging netlets, it’s unclear whether the WeB will have any impact on national ratings and whether the local revenues will add up to much. But the possibility of new revenue is enough to get the cable operators and broadcasters on board.

The WB is expected to announce other formal agreements with broadcasters in the next few weeks.

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