Kevin Reilly, TV execs discuss Cablevision spat

Entertainment prexy says network 'entitled to...fair share'

Fox Entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly weighed in Tuesday on his network’s spat with Cablevision, arguing that the network was “entitled to get our fair share.”

Reilly, onstage with the other broadcast entertainment presidents for the Hollywood Radio and TV Society’s annual “network chiefs” luncheon, said he believed the networks should get a proper chunk of the approximately $15 a month that subscribers pay for the broadcast stations.

Add that up, he said, and it reps $550 million in profit for the cable operator.

“I don’t know why USA Network gets compensated for ‘House’ reruns when we don’t for ‘House’ originals,” he added.

That argument didn’t sit well with the folks at USA Network, however, where the cabler’s strong crop of original programming plays into its subscriber fees as well.

“I think my good friend Kevin (Reilly) may have misspoken when he said that MSOs are just ‘paying USA for reruns of House,'” said USA Network programming chief Jeff Wachtel. “I think they value a number of things, including seven original scripted hit series, the WWE, big movies and a well-branded overall environment.”

On the issue of retrans, Reilly’s rivals backed him up, with CBS Entertainment prexy Nina Tassler agreeing that “we should be properly compensated” and new ABC Entertainment head Paul Lee, hailing from the dual-revenue world of cable, marveling at how retrans is now giving broadcasters a financial shot in the arm.

Lionsgate TV topper and HRTS prexy Kevin Beggs, who moderated the lively and wide-reaching discussion, hit some of the hot TV topics of the moment, asking execs to tackle ongoing issues such as how Nielsen measures (or doesn’t measure) primetime.

The execs repeated their long-standing concerns that shows’ initial ratings don’t accurately reflect DVR and online viewing and that the whole notion of what makes a “hit” has changed.”Every viewer has to be counted,” CW Entertainment prexy Dawn Ostroff said. Added Tassler: “It’s almost disrespectful not to count them.”

And in the case of new technology like Google TV — which the networks are so far avoiding — Reilly expressed concern about services “that are an attempt to be an end run around the networks … that’s a business we’re not going to want to be in.”

These technologies are being built on the backs of network-produced content, he noted — but if they put the networks out of business, that programming will no longer exist.

For his first HRTS panel (and the first network chiefs panel in three years), Lee outlined a bit more of his early mandate at ABC. That includes the possibility of bringing back ABC’s family-oriented Friday night “TGIF” block. “I think Friday night is a huge opportunity,” he said.

The exec also said he planned to take advantage of social networking to crowdsource ABC’s marketing campaigns — perhaps testing out key art images on Facebook, for example.

Reilly was perhaps the most introspective of the bunch, lauding CBS for its success in finding primetime flow while admitting that Fox struggles at finding common ground between disparate programming like “Family Guy” and “House.”

He also pointed out that had Fox’s quickly canceled “Lone Star” been on FX (where Reilly used to work), “I would have taken out a double truck ad and declared ‘Lone Star’ a hit at a 1.3 rating. Because that’s what ‘Mad Men’ does. And I would have probably collected a few trophies.”

And Reilly repeated Fox’s long-standing mantra that it hopes to eventually abolish the notion of a traditional TV season. “Oh, you’ve been saying that for years,” Tassler shot back — to which Reilly replied, “Someday maybe you all will listen.”

Among other topics, Tassler shuddered at the possibility of another writers’ strike: “No one wins,” she said.And asked about the impending Comcast/NBC merger, NBC’s Angela Bromstad said as the regulatory close moves closer, “it’s more in the forefront of our minds.”

“But we can’t afford to take our eyes off the day-to-day ball,” she added.

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