After a shaky start and three format changes, MyNetwork TV can finally relax: Station groups, including the 10 Fox-owned stations, have renewed the programming service for three more years.
"We were one of the first groups to sign on [for renewal] because we would like to see the platform continue," says Perry Sook, president and CEO of Nexstar Broadcasting. "Rather than continuing to renew year by year, this signals that this network is going to be around for a while."
Fox created MyNetwork in 2006 when CBS and Warner Bros. abruptly decided to merge The WB and UPN to become The CW. The CW remained on most WB affiliates, including Tribune's, leaving UPN affiliates -- 10 of which were owned by Fox-without a network.
At the time, Fox-owned Twentieth Television was shopping a new format for syndication, the English-language telenovela, so Fox decided to create a network and program it with the novelas. The five-night-a-week soap operas quickly failed, but MyNetwork TV kept trying and began to program low-budget unscripted shows.
Those also failed to catch fire, so two years ago Fox changed course again and turned MyNetwork TV into a "programming service," populated by big-name off-network shows MyNetwork TV could get at an efficient price.
It's one of the most basic tricks in the book, as entire cable networks have been built off of reruns of Law & Order and CSI.
This strategy worked. By 2010, MyNetwork TV had grown 194% (900,000 total viewers to 2.65 million) since its 2006 start, according to Nielsen, thanks to such programs as Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Without a Trace, USA Network spy stalwart Burn Notice and the characters network classic Monk.
MyNetwork TV's ratings might not be up there with the Big Four, but they are large enough to keep affiliates happy. "With MyNetwork TV, I get more inventory per hour than I would get from Fox or ABC, albeit at lower ratings," says Sook.
Business-wise, the network has been able to bring big studios such as NBC Universal and Warner Bros. to the table, luring them with the promise of a primetime run.
"A big part of why we can do this is because we have a lot of confidence that we are going to be able to fuel this pipeline with programming," says Frank Cicha, senior VP of programming for Fox Television Stations. "Distributors see MyNetwork TV as a simple way to increase their revenue. One thing I really like about this new model is that there are no rules. The only limit is the creativity and vision of the distributors that we work with."
"This primetime window we've opened up has become something of value to the distributors," says Paul Franklin, Twentieth's executive vice president and general sales manager of broadcast. "Now we can comfortably say to all of our affiliates that we're going to be around for the foreseeable future."