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MyNetwork, home of 'SmackDown!,' switches to new syndicated-TV strategy

February 9, 2009 |  4:45 pm

Smackdown_itmb1knc_300 Officials at MyNetworkTV, purveyor of "WWE Friday Night SmackDown!" as well as other, less-watched shows, have spent much of the last year arguing that their outlet should be considered alongside its larger broadcast rivals.

But today, the money-losing MyNetwork abruptly gave up on its network dreams.

News Corp., which also owns Fox, announced that MyNetwork is moving away from a network model to something the company dubbed a "hybrid" programmer. This entails a shift away from developing and ordering original material, as broadcast networks traditionally do, and looking for more ad-sharing partnerships with suppliers of existing programs, according to MyNetwork President Greg Meidel. This type of so-called "barter" arrangement is common in the TV syndication business, where stations typically negotiate lower program license fees by surrendering a portion of their ad inventory to the producer.

"SmackDown" and a night devoted to theatrical movies will remain on the new schedule. The lineup will also include a two-hour block of "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." The entire new lineup for this fall will be announced "shortly," the company said, with the official rollout in September. The network, which is carried on 180 stations nationwide, will keep its name.

Officials left little doubt that the move was being made for economic reasons. Launching in 2006 after the closure of UPN left several Fox-owned stations stranded with no prime-time shows, MyNetwork bombed badly with its initial lineup of cheap telenovelas. Since then, the network has found little that has clicked besides pro wrestling, although ratings have been up this year compared with the previous season.

"This economic turmoil that we're in," Meidel said in an interview, made it too risky to assume "the cost of producing and distributing shows as a traditional network." He added: "We're blowing up the old traditional model and being innovative." Meidel confirmed that the network is currently not profitable, and that layoffs would occur as part of the restructuring, although they were "not immediate."

More broadly, the latest MyNetwork move shows how broadcasters continue to struggle in a media world that grows more competitive by the day. Such outlets struggle in particular against cable programmers, which have beefed up their original programming lineups considerably in recent years. Unlike broadcasters, cable networks collect subscriber fees as well as advertising income.

-Scott Collins 

(Photo: "Friday Night Smackdown!" credit: Craig Ambrosio / WWE)