WB seeks to bring ‘Access’ to access

Sale attempts to resuscitate struggling TV mag

Warner Bros. Domestic Distribution is conducting an almost unprecedented fire sale on “Access Hollywood” to get the series cleared on high-visibility TV stations in lucrative 7-8 p.m. time periods.

The station-friendly deal represents a last-ditch effort by Warner Bros. to apply the jaws of life to a four-year-old magazine strip that has performed disastrously in the ratings on most stations other than the ones owned by NBC, which also owns “Access Hollywood.”

“In the largest markets, ‘Access Hollywood’ is quite successful in the Nielsens,” said Bill Carroll, VP and director of programming for Katz TV, a rep firm that advises more than 100 TV-station clients about the buying and scheduling of series. “But outside of those markets, the show delivers an anemic rating performance.”

Consulting the May-sweeps Nielsen reports, Carroll said that 10 of the 13 NBC-owned stations run the series in access (defined as 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Eastern time), where “Hollywood” averages a healthy 4.8 rating. On the 101 other stations where “Hollywood” runs in various timeslots, the show manages only a 0.9 rating. And even on the 12 stations outside the NBC family that strip the show in access, “Hollywood” can do no better than a 1.2 rating.

NBC threats

Sources said NBC dragged Warner Bros. out to the woodshed earlier this summer and said, in effect: If you can’t get us better time periods — and in some cases better stations — in those 101 markets around the country, then maybe we’ll find ourselves another distributor come 2003, when NBC’s contract with Warners expires.

So Warner Bros. drew up a proposal for pitching to stations in markets where “Hollywood” either doesn’t run at all or runs in nonaccess time periods (often throwaway slots like morning or latenight).

The sales blueprint says that if a station agrees to put “Hollywood” in the access time period for at least two years, that station will have to pay only half of the license fee that it was paying for the show that’s kicked out to accommodate “Hollywood.”

Further, Warner Bros. will then funnel 80% of the first year’s license fee back to the station so that it can locally market and promote “Hollywood” in the access time period.

Stations responding

So far, at least three stations have succumbed to the Warner Bros. siren song and agreed to slot “Hollywood” in access: WRTV Indianapolis, WPTV West Palm Beach, Fla., and WZZM Grand Rapids, Mich.

An executive with WRTV said the station won’t get exactly 80% of the first year’s license fee for advertising and promotion, but will get a considerable cash payment from the distributor. WRTV moved King World’s “Inside Edition” out of access to make room for “Hollywood,” mollifying KW by agreeing to continue ponying up a higher license fee than would be normal for the latenight time period where “Edition” will wind up.

Carroll said that if the new time period leads to jacked-up ratings for “Hollywood,” everybody will benefit, including Warner Bros., which will be able to impose bigger license fees down the road for a successful series.

“The strategy could turn out to be ingenious,” said Carroll. “I salute Warner Bros. for showing such absolute faith in the show.”