It’s a web, it’s a syndie

Buyers ponder Fox's new entity

It isn’t being programmed like a traditional network, doesn’t have a dedicated management team and still hasn’t found a home in several top markets.

News Corp.’s MyNetworkTV enters this week’s upfronts with several advertisers wondering: Is it a network or a syndicated programming block that happens to be cleared in-pattern across the country?

“At this point and time, the buyers are looking at it as a syndication play,” says Scott Haugenes, senior VP/group director, national broadcast, at Initiative.

But MyNet execs are confident that media buyers will treat them like the other webs.

“We’re promoting high-quality programming that will get good ratings, and I expect to get CPMs (cost-per-thousands) that reflect that,” says Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy. “We view the competition as anyone who’s programming primetime, be it ABC, NBC, CBS … (even) Fox.”

It’s easy to see why MyNet might still be seen as a syndication play.

The netlet’s two series, “Desire” and “Secret Obsessions,” were originally announced as syndicated telenovelas — and are being produced by Fox’s syndie arm, Twentieth TV.

And for now, Fox TV Stations and Twentieth TV execs are handling MyNet’s launch themselves — meaning the net doesn’t have its own staff.

“We’ll be announcing dedicated hires in the weeks to come,” Abernethy says. “But in the short term we’ve been able to draw on talent from a variety of Fox divisions.”

Millions of dollars could hinge on how media buyers view MyNet.

One rival webhead believes the netlet will likely walk away with just $65 million from the upfronts — close to what the WB and UPN fetched upon their launches in 1995 (although with only two nights).

That’s a far cry from the $375 million that UPN, or the $675 million that the WB, took home last year.

Still Haugenes says he sees several positives that may help get MyNet off the ground.

“They certainly have a niche to fill in broadcast,” he says. “They have a good station lineup, and they have original programming that will air day, date and time in pattern. Will every advertiser want to put their commercials there? Probably not. Will there be content problems? I imagine so. Will it be quality? TBD.

“But we want them to succeed,” he says. “If they do, it gives us another place for our advertisers to be, and helps our leverage and our negotiating strength in other places. And if they reach a younger audience, it benefits advertisers that are looking to offset older audiences elsewhere.”

From a financial standpoint, MyNet won’t have nearly the same programming costs (or infrastructure overhead) as the established webs.

The netlet is paying as little as $100,000 an episode for “Desire” and “Secret Obsessions,” which will be stripped Monday through Friday (with a Saturday recap).

As part of its pitch to stations, MyNet will also be sell fewer national spots per hour — around 10 — having given affils more local ad time. (Nets usually sell 15 per hour.)

As for affils, MyNet has lined up a solid roster, among them 10 Fox-owned stations including L.A. and New York; San Francisco’s KRON; and Sinclair outlets in Tampa, Pittsburgh and San Antonio — surprising the CW in some cases, as the two rivals race to fill out their station lineups.

MyNet hopes to hit 90% of the country by launch, but is still at 73% — missing major markets like Philadelphia and Boston. (The CW, on the other hand, has secured outlets in the top 20 markets.)

MyNet’s trump card could rest in young, bilingual viewers who are familiar with the telenovela format and may be coaxed away from both Spanish-language and traditional English webs. (The “Desire” and “Secret Obsessions” sudsers are adapted from popular Latin America originals.) The sheer ubiquity of the shows could also pay off.

“To me, one of its strengths is in its consistency and simplicity,” Abernethy says. “We’ve come up with a format that’s consistent across nights.”

But it could also be an albatross: If viewers quickly dismiss the telenovela format on MyNet, the netlet can’t immediately shelve the projects.

“If the shows aren’t working, we’ll fix them — and replace them with better ones,” responds Abernethy.

Haugenes says MyNet’s May 16 upfront presentation will be critical for the broadcaster, if it hopes to shake the syndie stigma.

“This is going to be their opportunity,” he says. “If they put on a great show … they have a chance to enhance their position.”

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