CMT kisses Miss America

Cable net pacts for rights to contests

The “Miss America Pageant” has found a new home on country music net CMT.

MTV Networks-owned cabler has inked a two-year deal for rights to the contest with options through 2011. CMT and WE: Women’s Entertainment had both bid on the franchise, insiders said, with the latter net dropping out mid-last week.

The Miss America Organization last fall parted ways with its home eight years ABC (Daily Variety, Oct. 21), after the 2004 kudocast delivered 9.8 million viewers — its lowest tally on the broadcaster. Both NBC’s “Miss USA” and “Miss Universe” contests rated higher. Pageant was later shopped as a revamped elimination-style reality series, according to insiders, but outlets didn’t take.

While Alphabet is said to have spent in the neighborhood of $5 million for rights to last year’s pageant, CMT will pay just a fraction of that, but will tack on a multi-tiered promotional campaign that will extend across all of MTV Networks, in addition to related programming leading up to the January 2006 competish.

CMT has budgeted upwards of $6 million to market “Miss America.” Sister net VH1 will play a big role in that promotion, according to CMT VP of programming and development Paul Villadolid, who will oversee the program.

VH1 also may also repurpose the telecast, but a decision has not yet been reached. “We went into this deal holding hands (with VH1). We’ll have the full support and promotional power of MTV Networks, but CMT and VH1 will be leading the charge” Villadolid said. He added that the auds for CMT and VH1 are largely unduplicated and could potentially double the reach of promotion.

In addition, the show’s flagging ratings aren’t a concern for CMT, which would dub the contest a success even if it should deliver significantly smaller Nielsens than it last did on ABC.

Both CMT and VH1 are planning to air “Miss America”-related programming – execs say a reality series documenting contestants’ road to the show and/or short-form interstitials are not out of the question – but talks are too early to say anything definitively. Full-order entertainment series, however, are more likely to accompany the 2007 pageant.

“As our music proves, CMT loves honest authentic storytelling, so at some point we’re definitely looking to tap into the underlying stories of these contestants. But it’s an evolution, and it’s going to take some time getting there,” Villadolid said. “This is a long-term relationship and we’re excited to figure out how to recast this brand and introduce it to old and new audiences.”

That means the traditional evening wear and bathing suit contests stay put. “There will be tweaks, but our intention is to honor the tradition of the ‘Miss America Pageant,'” Villadolid said. CMT hopes to blow up the franchise so “that doesn’t just exist one night a year. We want to build the excitement that leads up to that and we think we can work it into the fabric of our network and programming,”

MAO prexy-CEO Art McMaster said “I’ve said before that it’s time for a big change in ‘Miss America,’ and that is something CMT wanted to do. We absolutely trust them. They have the same loyal audience we’ve enjoyed for the last 15 years, and they reflect the same heartland sensibility.”

In addition to related programming, CMT will promote the show across CMT Radio (with its 130 affiliates), the cabler’s cross-country mobile marketing and official web site.

For the month of May, CMT averaged 253,000 viewers in primetime.

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