Digital TV Shuffle: Stations Don't Want To Get 'Lost'

This Just In: Herbst-Brady Out, Muszynski In As Starcom's Lead Negotiator

Just a month before 2006-07 upfront negotiations are expected to begin in earnest, TV giant Starcom USA is switching lead horses. TV buying vet and CEO John Muszynski will take the reins once again as lead negotiator, as Elizabeth Herbst-Brady, senior vice president and director of broadcast investment at the agency begins to transition out of day-to-day negotiating duties. For more on this story, click here.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled TV Watch....
Give away free TV programs and get more traditional TV viewers in return? In this new digital world, that's an eye-opening and perhaps hard-to-swallow argument if you are a station owner.

TV stations' respective networks' iTunes, VOD, or Google Video deals can combat a greater loss from piracy. That's a line executives such as ABC Media Networks co-chair Anne Sweeney are tossing around these days.



Sweeney says that within hours of a "Lost" episode running on the ABC, some 25,000 illegal downloads are grabbed by Internet users. More unlawful viewings occur before the West Coast airings of the show are seen some three hours later.

Therefore, making iTunes, VOD and other deals throws potential thieves off the scent. Longer term, more exposure for ABC prime-time shows with new digital deals is actually a benefit, acting like free marketing--helping traditional TV ratings.

Considering all the viewers on the Internet, this seems possible. CBS says it grabbed a network-size 5 million viewers and 20 million streams on the Internet for the recent NCAA men's basketball championship.

Right now, it seems ABC affiliates have the weakest position in regards to these new digital media programming deals. Executives say those stations don't get a revenue cut, which, in part, gave Disney-ABC its easy route in putting together its iTunes deals, and placing its own shows free on free (with commercials, of course.)

With the Internet, you can cut out the middleman--in this case, TV stations. It must be hard for stations to swallow this argument with little compensation, and then be told that giving away TV shows actually helps stir even greater TV audiences through traditional means.

Further proof of revenue and performance is needed to make a better argument to stations. But that's only the start. ABC affiliates will no doubt want a slice of the pie that Fox affiliates have--anywhere from 12 percent to 25 percent--or the larger piece CBS affiliates have.

Digital media audiences are small at the moment, and don't mean much right now. But many said the same thing when cable started up in earnest in the early 1980s.

Stations don't want to get lost in the digital shuffle.

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