News Corp. Does It 'My' Way, Launches New '6th' Network

Mere weeks after UPN and WB announced plans to consolidate into one healthier "fifth" network, News Corp. is launching a new sixth broadcast. The new network, dubbed My Network TV, fills a prime-time programming void for stations jilted by UPN's and WB's merger into CW, and leverages a powerful new News Corp. asset: wildly popular online community

In an effort to get the network up and running quickly, My Network will initially start with two inexpensive English-language versions of Spanish-language telenovelas--"Desires" and "Secrets"--which will run every day for the first 13 weeks of the new network's life.

My Network TV will air 8-10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and launch this September. Fox Television Stations and Twentieth Television, News Corp.'s TV syndication division, will jointly manage the network.

Though late to the party, My Network is looking to make up ground fast--it will give stations a whopping nine minutes of local advertising time to sell per hour. News Corp. will sell five minutes of national advertising time per hour. So far, ten of News Corp.'s soon-to-be ex-UPN affiliate stations have signed on, representing 24 percent of U.S. TV households.



A Fox spokesman would not confirm advertising terms, but Roger Ailes, chairman of Fox Television Stations--who will be in charge of the new network--said: "[The network] will be a new model that is more conducive to station operations--a viable station-friendly alternative" to the new CW network that CBS and Time Warner will launch at the same time.

The favorable 9 to 5 minute split for stations would be a much better deal than The CW is offering. The CW is offering three minutes of advertising time per hour, with the network keeping 11 minutes to sell to national advertisers, according to executives close to the company. That's the same split WB and UPN offered its affiliates.

Twentieth Television will be selling the national advertising time, according to one executive--to be headed up by Bob Cesa, executive vice president of advertising sales and cable programming for Twentieth Television.

In offering a favorable split, News Corp. could lure better stations to My Network TV, perhaps even away from the CW. The CW has been in an obviously better negotiating position, starting a network with proven WB and UPN programming--"Smallville," "America's Next Top Model," and "Gilmore Girls," to name a few.

Other stations' executives worry that even with more advertising time from My Network TV, low local ratings will mean their stations will be placed on a lower picking order by local media agencies.

Fox is promising better local station promotion and brand identity. During its New York City press conference to launch the network, Fox executives said affiliates could take on the My Network TV brand, such as "My 9 New York" for Fox's WWOR-TV station, and "My 13 L.A." for Fox's KCOP-TV outlet.

Jack Abernethy, CEO of Fox Television Stations, said there is efficiency in marketing the shows because there are only two Monday to Friday strips to promote instead of a full schedule of once-a-week prime-time shows. He said My Network TV will be promoted in all Fox media properties, including, Fox News, and Fox Sports.

CBS Corp. and Time Warner announced their intention to merge the assets of their respective UPN and WB networks in January and launch a new network, the CW, for this September. The new network has signed up CBS and Tribune stations, representing 48 percent of U.S. TV households. This has left many stations in the lurch looking for fall prime-time programming.

In its proposed distribution deals, The CW requires its new affiliates to use a specific level of its on-air time in promoting the network--especially in key local programming areas such as the prime access time slot, the 7 to 8 p.m. (6 to 7 p.m. Central time) time period that comes just before the network's prime-time commences.

The CW also calls for stations to affix the CW logo on its local newscasts, and other branding requirements. Stations also need to spend a specific level of their own money for off-air advertising of the network. Some executives view this requirement as "reverse compensation." The traditional network-affiliate relationship involves the network paying an affiliate to carry network programming.

In response to the new News Corp. network, The CW released a statement: "We wish Fox well with their alternative strategy, but believe the future for television stations will be based on a strong, long-term, mutually supportive relationship between stations and their networks."

Although it's called a network, My Network TV is still mostly a syndication model, say executives. "It has been around for a while and it has never worked," said one veteran network executive.

In the late 80s and early 90s, independent TV stations tried and failed to launch a sustaining prime-time block of syndicated programming. Hour-long syndication shows, such as "Xena: The Warrior Princess" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation" were two of the most successful shows that played in prime time on independent stations.

Collectively, The WB and UPN posted $2 billion in losses over the 10 years they have been in operation. Now both the CW and My Network TV are claiming to be profitable right from launch.

The CW is counting on grabbing most of the advertising dollars of both WB and UPN--around a billion a year--to put them into the black.

What's left for My Network TV?

Production costs for My Network TV shows will be a fraction of that of regular prime-time shows. A typical hour of prime-time programming can cost $1.2 million to $2 million an episode.

"Telenovelas can typically cost $90,000 an episode," says David Joyce, media equity analyst, for Miller Tabak & Co. "My Network TV seems to be a network of counter-programming strategy."

That means for My Network TV, an entire six-night prime-time schedule will consist of two serialized telenovelas that will cost less than $1 million. (On Saturday night, My Network TV will do a recap show for each telenovela). After these telenovelas complete their respective runs, the network will offer up a slew of reality shows, magazine programs, and other inexpensive productions that will also run six days a week.

John Wolfe contributed to this story.

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