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Fox stations bank on Banks

Deal gives WB project momentum at NATPE

LAS VEGAS — On the eve of NATPE, the Fox stations have cleared a firstrun strip with Tyra Banks being distributed by Warner Bros.

Nineteen of the 25 Fox O&Os have committed to taking the talk show for fall and will air it in a variety of timeslots.

Deal gives the Warner project enormous momentum as NATPE proper gets under way today, with a show that will feature single-issue topics of importance to the younger demo. Five other firstrun strips are vying for clearances on the NATPE floor.

Some Fox stations are eyeing the old “Ricki Lake” late afternoon timeslots, while others may end up airing Banks in the morning.

WB ‘Banks’ on ratings

Warners syndication prexy Dick Robertson said that “Oprah” ratings when Banks guest-appeared were 8%-10% higher than the regular episodes with the queen of talk. He pointed out that Dr. Phil enjoyed a similar spike when he hosted “Oprah” on Tuesdays — and he subsequently became a hot commodity in syndication.

Announcement by Warners raises questions about the future of at least one other firstrun project, “The Suze Orman Show,” which most observers thought would be cleared on Fox’s owned stations since it’s being pitched and produced by Fox sister company Twentieth TV.

News Corp. heir apparent Lachlan Murdoch, who was on hand in Vegas for the announcement late Monday, told Daily Variety that originally only six Fox stations were interested in the Banks project, but that after heavy pitches by Warner brass and Banks herself, 19 News Corp. stations were convinced of her “commitment” and the project’s viability.

Robertson said he expected to build on the 70% clearance tally so far for Banks during the NATPE convention and that ultimately the show would be cleared in 90% or more of the country in a cash and barter deal.

Moreover, Robertson said the promotional budget behind “The Tyra Banks Show” will be substantial and involve radio, billboards, cable and bus cards as well as more traditional media.

Banks, 31, will tape the new show in Los Angeles, but it’s not clear whether her other series, “America’s Next Top Model,” on UPN, will relocate to L.A.

Meanwhile, as exhibitors finished staple-gunning their booths together, NATPE put together a conference with iHollywood Monday to shed light on the nascent business of producing content for mobile phones and other portable devices.

‘Mobisodes’

A new catchword emerged from the gabfest: “mobisodes” — mini episodes of original content produced specifically for cell phones, and it’s part of the new lexicon that’s got content providers and carriers salivating.

NATPE organizers decided that the intersection between TV and wireless warranted an entire day devoted to the topic.

Some 400 delegates participated in Monday’s Mobile Day.

“Entertainment has the greatest growth potential for driving usage of cell phones,” News Corp. senior VP Lucy Hood told an audience gathered Monday for the first-ever joint iHollywood-NATPE symposium devoted to wireless content. “We at News Corp. believe that content for wireless devices is very complementary to TV.”

To wit, Hood’s company is about to launch Stateside one-minute episodes of “24 Conspiracy,” a parallel “drama-let” inspired by Fox’s hit series “24,” which will premiere on Verizon cell phones in several weeks.

There are 1.3 billion cell phone users worldwide but only 1.1 billion TV households. In the U.S., the proportion is even more eyebrow-raising: some 200 million mobile phones compared to 100 million TV households.

At a panel Monday morning moderated by iHollywood founder Michael Stroud, panelists from Nokia and Sprint, as well as newcomers such as SmartVideo and TwoMinute TV, agreed that successful content for phones could be either repurposed from existing video or created specifically for cell phones.

Water-cooler worthy

“It’s about great content that gets talked about at the water cooler, just like ‘The Sopranos’ does,” said TwoMinute TV CEO David Post.

The content can migrate between the Internet and phones or be repurposed from television.

One original reality show is “The Spot,” which launched last April and is seeing 15% more viewers click on each month, according to producer and Stewdio Media CEO Stewart St. Johns.

Still, no one on that panel would talk about profitability or projections thereof for their companies from this activity.

Meanwhile, in content news for television, a number of station clearances for various syndicated shows filtered out of the Mandalay Bay Monday:

New Line TV has cleared four key markets for the second season of “The Twilight Zone” — Boston, Cleveland, Phoenix and Nashville.

And Viacom’s MTV Networks just clinched its first-ever global acquisition deal, securing rights to Animation Collective’s kids series “Kappa Mikey” for Nicktoons in the U.S. and for its Nick channels around the world. MTV Intl. also acquired foreign distribution rights to the property for broadcast sales outside the U.S.