MyNet shifts b'cast gears yet again; now, it's a hybrid

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MyNetworkTV no longer is a broadcast network.

Despite double-digit ratings growth this season, the News Corp. venture is cutting back on original programming and will air syndicated content from rival companies.

MyNet will switch to a new model in the fall that includes such syndicated content as a two-hour block of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" repeats from NBC Universal. The network also is giving back Saturday nights to affiliates.

"We need to blow up the traditional broadcast model," MyNet president Greg Meidel said. "It's not working."

Meidel said the network no longer is a broadcaster but a "hybrid national program distribution service."

"This move away from a strict network model to a hybrid will allow us to continue to be a valuable asset in the News Corp. portfolio," he said. "This is a tremendous opportunity for our affiliates to generate more revenue by providing them with branded, high-profile programming that are proven ratings performers."

In a season where most networks are down year-over-year, MyNet showed the most growth of any broadcast network, up 50% among adults 18-49 and edging out the CW in some recent weeks. But behind the steep percentages is a modest overall level of viewership topped by the costly "WWE Friday Night SmackDown!"

WWE and the "Criminal Intent" block will be included on MyNet's new fall schedule, which will be announced soon. Meidel said he isn't sure how many original programming hours the network will have as it is talking with potential programming partners.

"We are very proud of what we have accomplished with MyNetworkTV in the past three years," Meidel said. "Due to the current economic environment, we wanted a creative flexible solution that will give us a greater economic result. This innovative new model allows us to build a strong primetime block with established well-known programming while reducing our overhead costs."

Under the new plan, NBC Universal receives half the advertising inventory for "Criminal Intent," so MyNet doesn't actually pay for the content. The other 50% goes toward MyNet stations, the bulk of which are owned by Fox.

The content switch marks the latest twist for the 3-year-old network, which launched after the demise of UPN and WB Network. The network's first programming lineup consisted of original telenovelas. When that flopped, MyNet began programming reality repeats and formats (including "Jail," "The Academy" and "Paradise Hotel 2"), often relying on sister division Fox Reality Channel, plus purchasing original celebrity programming and second-run movies.

When the CW declined to renew its agreement with WWE last year, MyNet picked up the Friday night telecast, giving the network record ratings. The wrestling franchise issued a news release Monday reassuring fans that "Smackdown!" has "a bright future."

Season to date, MyNet went from a 0.4 adults 18-49 rating in 2008 to a 0.6. Among total viewers, it's up by 57%, from 1.1 million to 1.7 million. About half the network's improvement is driven by "Smackdown!"

Ever since MyNet dropped the telenovelas, the network has shrugged off branding in favor of ratings — willing to swing between a Britney Spears special to wrestling. This new change takes such flexibility to a new level by airing shows from former rivals in hopes of bumping viewership.

"It's all about attracting the largest audience we can," Meidel said. "This will be healthy for broadcast television."
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