CMAs exiting Eye in Alphabet kudos coup

ABC has spelled out its plans to get a little more country, picking up a two-hour CMA Music Festival special and Kenny Chesney concert event, in addition to landing the CMA Awards franchise.

Alphabet confirmed Wednesday it had sealed a six-year deal with the Country Music Assn. to pick up the kudofest, a longtime CBS staple, beginning in November 2006 (Daily Variety, May 10).

ABC will get a jump on the country beat this summer by airing “CMA Music Festival: Country Music’s Biggest Party,” a televised portrait of the annual Nashville-based event, on Aug. 2.

Then there’s the special “Kenny Chesney: Somewhere in the Sun,” which follows the country star’s current sold-out concert tour and airs Nov. 23.

According to CMA executive director Ed Benson, ABC stepped up to make a play for the CMA Awards, offering an increase of at least 50% over what CBS had previously been paying for the show.

Having been set up at the Eye for 34 years, the CMA felt it was time to make a change, Benson said.

“The ABC guys really came after the property and convinced our board that they could take it to the next level,” he said. The CMA Awards have increased in stature over the past four years, after the country kudos moved to November sweeps in 2001. Last year, the 38th edition virtually tied the Grammy Awards, leaving the Academy Awards as the only kudocast that’s more highly rated.

“It’s the third-biggest award show franchise out there,” said ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson, whose net airs the Oscars. “Having two of the three is an important thing. It’s a huge player strategically.”

Marketed as “Country Music’s Biggest Night,” the CMA Awards came to TV in 1968, spending its first four years on NBC before moving to the Eye in 1972. Kraft solely sponsored the awards show for the first 20 years of the CBS telecast, before the CMAs began directly dealing with the network in the late 1980s.

The six-year pact with ABC is the longest contract period the org has negotiated for the CMAs; the previous CBS deal spanned four years.

The “CMA Music Festival” deal was handled separately. CBS aired the event’s first-ever primetime special last year.

CBS will broadcast the 39th annual CMA Awards from Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, Nov. 15. Eye continues to hold broadcast rights to the Academy of Country Music Awards, which aired last week.

The CMAs will return to Nashville for the 40th edition in 2006.

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