Show cleared in 99% of the country for 2011

“The Ellen DeGeneres Show” is looking to grab as many orphaned “Oprah” viewers as possible in fall 2011.

Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution announced Wednesday that it had cleared “Ellen” in 99% of the country for 2011. But what’s more, the distributor said it had persuaded stations in 88 out of the top 100 markets to either keep or move “Ellen” into early fringe time periods.

That’s where “The Oprah Winfrey Show” has dominated for decades. But with Winfrey retiring from syndication and moving on to her cable channel and other ventures, Warner Bros. believes that it may be able to attract as much as half of the “Oprah” aud over to “Ellen” — even though, in many cases, the two shows air on different channels.

According to Warner Bros. Do-mestic TV Distribution prexy Ken Werner, the company commissioned studies by research firms SmithGeiger and Magid that backed up those assertions.

“We went to all of our TV stations and showed them the empirical data we had,” Werner said. “We told them all the data indicates that if you’re on in the same time period when ‘Oprah’ was on, you have an extremely large opportunity to grab a percentage of that audience.”

Warner Bros. already sealed a deal with the NBC-owned stations earlier this year, keeping “Ellen” on WNBC New York and KNBC Los Angeles, as well as in other markets.

Most of the distributor’s other station deals weren’t up until 2012 — but Warner Bros. decided to kick off talks early in order to persuade those outlets to make strategic early-fringe scheduling adjustments in 2011.

“We told them that they should move into position in 2011 to take advantage of the sea change — and then protect yourself by making a deal through 2014,” Werner said.

As of now, “Ellen” is also cleared through 2013 in 85% of the country and through 2014 in 77%.

Station groups committed to “Ellen” include Hearst, Gannett, Scripps, Belo, Local TV, Media General, Raycom, Cox, Gray, Freedom Communications and Comcorp. Werner added that sales to stronger Big 3 affils (ABC, NBC and CBS) rep 95% of the country.

“We set about in a methodical and quiet fashion, going out to the station community,” Werner said.

Werner added that “Ellen” received license fee bumps (a rarity in this cash-strapped station environment) that he said were “commensurate with what we believe the audience for ‘Ellen’ will be … people understood the value. We basically said to everybody, ‘We’re not looking to extort; we’re looking for fair market value.’ “

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