NBC tries to pacify affils

Wright addresses cable concerns

NEW YORK — NBC affils — who went into their annual meeting Sunday ready to rumble — left feeling slightly more optimistic about their partnership with the Peacock, despite the lack of any substantive agreements on such hot-button issues as program exclusivity.

In a move aimed at diffusing months of pent-up tension caused by a series of controversial deals and statements, NBC chairman and CEO Bob Wright kicked off the one-day Gotham confab by telling stations they shouldn’t read too much into his recent comments about NBC possibly taking its signal to cable in markets where it’s unable to ink new deals with affils.

“He made a very strong statement … that there’s no better place for NBC to be than with stations, and that there’s no better place for the affiliates to be than with NBC,” said Alan Frank, chairman of the NBC affil board and general manager of WDIV, the Post-Newsweek Peacock affil in Detroit. “We were all very pleased by his very strong statement.”

NBC Television Network prexy Randy Falco agreed that the mood going into the meeting was one of “frustration on both sides,” but said that a day of frank discussion between both sides helped.

“It was all aired out, and I’d like to believe there was a relief of tension, ” he said.

That said, serious differences remain between NBC and its affils, particularly on the principle that NBC affils should be the exclusive outlet for NBC product. The web’s recent agreement with Studios USA to allow segs of the new “Law & Order” spinoff to air on USA Network within two weeks of bowing on the Peacock continues to irk affils, though Frank said NBC brass worked hard to explain that the net felt it had no choice but to accept such a deal from Studios USA in order to hold on to “Law & Order.”

One affil source said there’s a willingness on the part of stations to make concessions on the issue of exclusivity if certain ground rules can be established and affils are given some sort of equity stake in future NBC revenue streams. Frank said an affil board subcommittee has been assigned the specific task of dealing with exclusivity, calling the matter a “top priority.”

“There’s a renewed resolve to get this issue resolved,” he said.

Stations complained that part of the problem in recent months has been the very vocal comments from NBC execs complaining that the affil-network relationship has to change, and hints that the Peacock was more than ready to go to cable if necessary. The remarks have put affils on the defensive and, perhaps more importantly, hurt the stock price of several large station groups.

Frank said affils were “hopeful” that NBC brass might now be less outspoken on such issues.