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ABC scraps annual affil confab

Alphabet to offer five regional meetings instead

NEW YORK — ABC is the latest network to cancel its annual affiliate meeting.

Following the lead of UPN, NBC and Fox, the Alphabet web announced Friday that it will opt instead to hold a series of five regional meetings. CBS plans to hold its affil meeting in Las Vegas in June.

In a statement released Friday, ABC said the shift is largely “an effort to increase participation and to enhance face-to-face dialogue among local station management and network executives.”

ABC had planned to get together with the affils May 22-23. It intends to hold its regional meetings in June in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and Houston.

No ulterior motives

An ABC source said mounting tensions between the affiliates and the broadcast networks had nothing to do with the change of game plan and that the net had been considering canceling the affiliate meeting for months. Some industry insiders found the timing more than coincidental, however.

On March 9, the major network affiliates asked the FCC to investigate allegations that the nets, bolstered by consolidation, are strong-arming on programming and in crucial business decisions.

The Network Affiliated Stations Alliance (NASA) brought the 43-page petition on behalf of more than 600 ABC, CBS and NBC affils. Some of those groups also owned Fox-affiliated stations. NASA alleges that in exercising undue influenceover affils, the four major nets have violated specific FCC rules and disrupted the historic affiliate-network balance.

“Since the petition was filed, ABC and the other nets are wrestling with the question of why to host a bunch of people who are behaving as if they’re your enemies,” said one industry source.

Tightening belt

Others see the soft economy and a slowdown of ad sales as a reason for the cutback.

“With the economic climate as it is, the nets are saying, ‘Let’s talk business. Let’s not throw parties,'” said Katz TV Group director of programming Bill Carroll.

ABC will keep its meetings down to one day, in part so affiliates won’t have to spend money on hotels. Its meeting was going to be held at parent Walt Disney Co.’s new California Adventure theme park in Anaheim.

Of course, one purpose of the meetings has been to share some Hollywood glamour with affiliates.

“They’re an opportunity for general managers and station owners to have their pictures taken with stars,” said Carroll.

(Pamela McClintock contributed to this report.)

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