Broadcasters and cable nets get cosy

The Big Six networks in the U.S. appear to be opening their doors to increased collaboration with the cable channels.
September 27, 2001

Last Friday, the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon, which raised funds for victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks, inspired the unprecedented cooperation of broadcast and cable networks from coast to coast in the U.S. But, some single and dual feed services are partnering up for more than just disaster relief.

Broadcaster CBS and cable net MTV are partnering for a new five-part documentary series called Criminal, which looks at crimes motivated by prejudice, to air starting October 3. Meanwhile, cable’s Court TV and broadcast giant ABC have banded together for an NYPD Blue cross-promotion and ‘making-of’ documentary. Court TV is showing NYPD nightly leading up to the November 7 series premiere on ABC. Both networks will also air the documentary, in differing formats, in October.

Marc O. Smith, a spokesperson for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association in the U.S., says there are a couple of issues at work in these collaborations. ‘The reason you’re seeing such close collaboration between the broadcast networks and the cable networks is that many of them have the same corporate owner.’ He explains that the CBS/MTV partnership makes sense, since both are owned by Viacom. ‘The corporate owners of these networks are looking at ways to cross-platform.’

The Court TV/ABC partnership is a little different: Court TV is owned by AOL Time Warner, while Disney owns ABC. Smith says this type of collaboration is not unprecedented, however, and he cites NBC and Discovery as an example. In the past, Discovery and NBC collaborated for NBC’s newsmagazine show Dateline. ‘What it’s really showing,’ says Smith, ‘is the declining separation between broadcast and cable networks. They are becoming platform agnostic.’

Smith notes that the change in ideals regarding cable nets and broadcasters isn’t without its doomsayers. ‘It’s a remarkable change and it’s not without some trepidation by certain constituencies, the primary one being the actual station owners. They only have one station. They’re not like their corporate parents who have access to national audiences and a number of stations.’

Last week’s telethon wasn’t executed without a few toes being stepped on either: cable network National Geographic was excluded due to pre-emption issues, since its offer to air a tape of the program at midnight on the East Coast would have competed with local stations’ non-telethon 12 o’clock offerings. Says Smith, ‘We were a bit taken aback by it…we thought any opportunity and any more eyeballs that could be reached would fulfill the unified cause. It was an unfortunate incident of things returning to normal, which is the animosity that the station owners have had towards cable – seeing it as a competitive threat. That animosity arose at a very inopportune time.’

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