NEW ORLEANS — NBC and its affiliate board spent the weekend locked in tough talks over redefining the traditional network-affiliate relationship.
NBC hopes to find enough common ground to present a concrete plan to the full affiliate body by the next meeting in May.
“Everyone understands the business is changing,” said Randy Falco, the new president of the NBC TV Network, who presided over his first affil meeting. “We’re trying to put together a business plan that allows us to maintain each other’s economic viability.”
With its primetime ratings dropping this season and profits expected to follow suit, NBC is looking to reduce or eliminate the roughly $200 million a year it pays affils to carry its shows.
In return, NBC may bring the affiliates in as partners in new ventures such as digital TV and the Internet.
“We have to find mutual ways we can grow our businesses,” Falco said. “There’s too much time spent talking about how to carve up the pie instead of how to expand the pie.”
So far, the two sides appear to be making little headway.
“We’ve really been talking about the big issues,” said Alan Frank, general manager of WDIV Detroit and chairman of NBC’s affiliate board. “These are not easy discussions.”
David Barrett, executive VP and chief operating officer of Hearst-Argyle TV, said allowing affiliates to profit from any new digital TV plans may be a way to solve the issues of compensation and program exclusivity.
“We add value to their programming with our original exhibition,” Barrett said, “and to the extent it can go other places, we’d like to participate.”
None of the prickly issues was addressed at Monday’s full affil meeting.
Instead, NBC touted its morning and latenight ratings, and focused on ways to fix its primetime lineup. An agreement also was reached on giving affiliates a stronger voice in operating the NBC News Channel.