A longer 'Today' gets many OKs

90% of NBC affils clear fourth hour of a.m. flagship

In somewhat of a surprise, NBC is receiving wide acceptance for its expanded "Today," with about 90% of network affiliates clearing the upcoming fourth hour of the show and many of those stations agreeing to carry the four hours in sequence.

More affiliates were expected to balk at giving away another hour of programming to the network and thus losing space for syndicated programming. But in a conference call with reporters after NBC's affiliate meeting in New York, executives said the clearance rates were much higher than anyone expected at this point.

"We're in good shape," said John Damiano, executive vp affiliate relations at NBC Universal.

About 60% of NBC's 230 affiliates have agreed to air the fourth hour at 10 a.m. Another 20% have cleared the fourth hour to air at 11 a.m., and 10% have committed to airing the fourth hour at another time. The remaining 10% haven't made a decision, which means that the network hasn't had a rash of rejections of the "Today" fourth hour. NBC couldn't immediately provide a tally of the stations that were undecided.

NBC is working on the fourth hour and is expected to provide details when the network meets with advertisers for the upfront presentation. "Today" now runs 7-10 a.m.

NBC Affiliate Board chairman Marci Burdick, who is senior vp of Schurz Communications, said Wednesday that the idea was first raised a year ago and then again in December to generally positive response.

"It's not going to be a dramatic deviation from what 'Today' looks like (now)," Burdick said. "There will be local news opportunities for affiliates."

Meanwhile, the network also said that it would release a new media player for affiliate Web sites to launch in August before the new television season. Burdick said that details would be forthcoming; Jay Ireland, president of NBC Uni Television Stations, said the new media player wouldn't disrupt its stations' current Web sites.

"It will not have a negative impact or a change for any of the affiliates' Web sites," Ireland said. "It will be incorporated into what they do on their home page."

NBC Uni has also talked to affiliates about its recently announced video deal with News Corp. and how they could be involved.

"The network has made a commitment to us to consider affiliates in that venture and we're anxious to hear those ideas," Burdick said.
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