NAB 2013 in Review: Streaming, Second Screen Dominate Affiliate Meetings

LAS VEGAS -- Network affiliates held their annual NAB Show meetings in Las Vegas, with discussions ranging from new programming to strategies for dealing with Aereo and expanding second screen initiatives.

The ABC affiliates board and its network reps are moving ahead on discussions related to what the parties are calling “geo-targeted streaming”-the live streaming of local and network content under the “Watch ABC” rubric. Dave Boylan, chairman of the affiliates board, said the discussions are very early, but have thus far been encouraging. “There are a lot of points that have to be worked out between the network and the affiliates,” he said. “It’s really just a first conversation.”

The affiliates celebrated the year anniversary of “Good Morning America” taking over the top slot in the morning TV battle, and were encouraged by Jimmy Kimmel’s start in an earlier slot, and how he was poised to succeed against Jimmy Fallon when NBC swaps out its “Tonight Show” host next year. “ABC now has a strong new late fringe comedy,” said Boylan, vice president and general manager at WPLG Miami. “The affiliates said, that’s a smart move.”

CBS affiliates like where “CBS This Morning” is heading. Chris Cornelius, chairman of the CBS affiliates board, said enthusiasm among the board in Vegas regarding the long underperforming morning show was higher than it’s been in years. “We’ve got a wonderful advantage in that we do [hard] news in the morning,” he said.ABC and NBC are poaching viewers from each other, he added, while CBS is attracting viewers seeking something more substantial in the morning.

CBS News President David Rhodes discussed developments within the CBS Newspath arrangement the network and the affiliates share. “We’re looking at how we can improve efficiency and delivery and quality,” said Cornelius, president and chief operating officer of Barrington Broadcasting. “It’s essential to all our newsrooms.” Diana Wilkin, president of affiliate relations, spoke, as did Gordon Smith, president and CEO of the NAB. Steve Lanzano, president and CEO of the trade association TVB, spoke on the merits of live plus same day ratings, and of working with Nielsen to deliver more accurate measurement.

While live streaming is an increasingly hot topic among other networks and their affiliates, Cornelius said it did not come up at the CBS meeting. With CBS’s primetime continuing to thrive, complaints among affiliates are minimal.

A day after Chase Carey, News Corp. president and chief operating officer, discussed potentially blowing up the broadcast model for Fox, the affiliates meeting in Las Vegas looked to be full of pyrotechnics—fueled by station partners who are unclear about their role in a different network model. On the contrary, the meeting showed an affiliate body that appears united in its support of Fox taking down outfits such as Aereo that build a business on the backs of broadcasters’ content.

The meeting, according to several affiliates, was short on the vociferous debates seen in previous years, and showed both parties seemingly eager to work together.

“I think everybody supports our position and is generally understanding about where we’re going,” said Mike Hopkins, president of affiliate sales and marketing at Fox. Network officials said that many in the press had blown Carey’s statements out of proportion, and neglected to report that, if Fox ends up upending the network model, it intends to keep affiliates in the equation. “One option could be converting the Fox broadcast network to a pay channel,” Fox said in a statement, “which we would do in collaboration with both our content partners and affiliates.”

Fox officials in the meeting emphasized that point to station partners, but did not provide details on how the relationship would or would not change.

Affiliate partners got some insights on Fox’s plan to increase live streaming offerings, including the “Sports to Go” app, to be branded locally by stations. “It’s aggressive and it feels like something we can take to market,” said one affiliate. “We feel like partners on it.” They also got glimpses at new programming, which one group leader said was “outstanding...just outstanding.”

Local broadcasters are increasingly united in thwarting the Aereos and Aereokillers and other streaming services of the world, and most believe the content owners will win. Affiliates in the room at the Fox meeting credited the network for working out a Plan B should Aereo prevail in court—and genuinely seemed to believe they would remain significant partners if Fox should end up as a pay channel.

“I’m very impressed that they’re out in front of this,” said one Fox station vet.

As it has been at the other affiliate board meetings, live streaming of network content took up a chunk of the NBC affiliates board meeting in Las Vegas.

Jordan Wertlieb, chairman of the board, called the network’s TV Everywhere initiative a “work in progress.” He would not share details, but said both parties are going about it aggressively, and in good faith. “The network recognizes the important part the affiliates bring to the table,” he said.

The network and the affiliates are also working out a mobile television framework; Wertlieb stressed that live streaming and mobile TV are not mutually exclusive. Both efforts show broadcasters’ desire to be there for users at all times, on all platforms.

NBC Broadcasting Chairman Ted Harbert and Jean Dietze, executive vice president of affiliate relations at NBC, addressed the board, which includes Dave Lougee of Gannett, Jim Yager of Barrington and Vince Sadusky of LIN, among others. NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith made an appearance, while Steve Lanzano, president and CEO of the trade association TVB, spoke on ratings measurement and the merits of live plus same day ratings in the marketplace. Hot network topics such as “Today”’s prolonged slump and the host switch at “The Tonight Show” did not get substantial play in the meeting. Since NAB is a technology show, said Wertlieb, tech topics dominated the meeting. “We’re all on the same page,” he said.