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ABC, affils kick around NFL deal

Both sides still talking about pricetag, programming

In football terms, ABC and its affiliates are facing a third-and-long.

The net’s three-year pact with affils to help cover the cost of the net’s pricey NFL package expires at the end of July, but it appears likely negotiations on a new deal will creep into August.

“There are no economic consequences to us missing the July 31 deadline,” ABC Television Network prexy Alex Wallau said Wednesday at a meeting with the affils in Chicago. But, he added, “We would love to get this deal done and behind us.”

Bruce Baker, exec veepee at Cox Television and head of ABC’s affiliates board, characterized the negotiations as “positive but not complete.”

Under the 1999 pact, affiliates pitch in $45 million a year to subsidize ABC’s “Monday Night Football” pricetag, which comes in around $550 million. Affils also gave back 10 ad spots during the “One Saturday Morning” kids block but gained eight primetime slots in addition to limited exclusivity on network programming.

Two sticking points

Before ratifying a new deal, both sides must come to terms on a number of contentious fronts, including a new pricetag — after all, with diminishing returns on football, affils don’t want to pay more — and ABC’s desire to repurpose more programming.

Under the current deal, ABC can repurpose up to 25% of its primetime programming with no conditions; beyond that, entertainment programming can’t be recycled until after 180 days or the end of the season.

“Anything more than zero is more than what the affiliates want, and anything less than 100% is less than what the networks want,” Baker said.

But ABC has yet to hit the 25% repurposing threshold, he noted.

The network also pitched affils on clearing an extra half-hour for Jimmy Kimmel’s hourlong talker, which bows in January in the slot held by the half-hour “Politically Incorrect.”

Wallau said more than 200 affiliates attended the one-day meeting, held at the Westin O’Hare. ABC execs highlighted ways it hopes to climb out of the ratings cellar.

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