‘Nightline’ allows affils to take five

Hoping to build on recent ratings momentum and increase live carriage of “Nightline,” ABC will delay the show’s start time by five minutes and offer affiliates more time for local sales if they will carry the program immediately after their local news.

ABC will start “Nightline” at 11:35 p.m. beginning April 5, providing more time for advertising within local newscasts. In addition, the web will make an extra 3 1/2 minutes of network time available for local sales during the week, including a 30-second spot during “Nightline” each night and another out of the news division’s high-rated prime time magazines “20/20” and “PrimeTime Live.”

NBC already airs “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” at 11:35 p.m., and CBS is expected to do the same when it launches David Letterman’s new program Aug. 23. Some CBS stations delay “Crime Time After Prime Time” by five minutes, but the pattern doesn’t hold throughout the network.

Koppel’s kickoff

ABC began the push for “Nightline” at its affiliates meeting last June, when anchor Ted Koppel stood before the network’s affiliate body and said there was a chance the show would disappear if clearances didn’t improve.

The web’s new clearance approach is two-pronged: “Nightline” gets pushed back five minutes to give stations extra time for late newsand more local ad time; and the web increases the number of units for sale locally during “Nightline” as an incentive to carry the show live.

Help for affils

Both efforts should help put more cash into the coffers of affiliates, many of whom delay the show in favor of more lucrative syndicated fare. “Nightline” currently airs at 11:30 p.m. on 114 of ABC’s 221 stations covering 61% of the U.S., leaving 107 affiliates that delay the broadcast by 30 minutes or an hour.

Among affiliates in major markets, neither WFAA-TV, Dallas, nor WSB-TV, Atlanta, carries the program live.

ABC hopes the seven additional 30-second spots and ad opportunities from the expanded news slot will be sufficient incentive to carry “Nightline” live. The additional ad time being allotted to stations during “Nightline” and at the mid-show break in the prime time shows will come out of the network’s own promotional block.

Prime value

One affiliate said the spots within “20/20” and “PrimeTime” are considered very valuable and that those within “Nightline,” while not worth as much, also could provide healthy revenue for stations.

As for the 11:35 p.m. start to “Nightline,” that should add a minimum of 30 seconds and up to two minutes to the local station’s late news advertising package.

Affiliates were notified of the enhancements last week. In that time, five stations representing clearances a little shy of 2% of the country have agreed to move the program to the 11:35 p.m. start time. With the additional stations, “Nightline” will be available live in 63% of the country.

Just a beginning

Nonetheless, the network realizes that getting affiliates to convert to carrying the show live is going to be a long-term process.

“This will be some positive incentive for stations,” said John Garwood, VP and general manager of WPLG-TV, Miami, and the vice chairman of the network’s affiliate board. “It certainly puts a positive spin on it.”

Garwood said his own station will add the five minutes to his newscast and “hot switch” to “Nightline” without a break. “We’ll go from our anchor desk to Ted Koppel’s anchor desk,” Garwood said.

Sweeps success

During the February sweeps, “Nightline” was the top-rated late night network program with a 5.7 rating/16 share, beating both “Tonight” (5.2/14) and “Crime Time” (3.5/10). The program has also beaten “Tonight” in their common half-hour the past three weeks.

Evolutionary step

Giving stations additional advertising time is another step in the evolution of the relationship between networks and affiliates. For the past few years, compensation — the payments to stations to carry programs — have been cut back by the networks. As a result, the networks have had to turn over sometimes lucrative advertising time to help make up for the shortfall at the station level.

In the late night hours, stations can do rather well with off-network sitcoms and firstrun fare. The networks know all too well that stations aren’t likely to give up that time to run a network show without incentives.

Industry observers, critics and ABC executives have all suggested that the winner of the Letterman/Jay Leno late night battle could be “Nightline” as the alternative to the two talkshows.