ASSOCIATION OF INDEPENDENT TELEVISION ASSOCIATIONS

The Association of Independent Television Stations, known as INTV, began 10 November 1972. Its purpose was to promote the needs of local telecasters throughout the United States that had no network affiliation. At first, the organization served about 70 stations, mostly located in large markets, and worked primarily to solve the economic problems encountered by small stations trying to buy costly shows to fill their programming schedules. One special effort involved attempts to both lower the cost and simplify transmission of programs to non-network stations by means of AT and T's "longlines." When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) deregulated satellite access to national programming in 1975 this problem was eliminated, and much of the recent increase in the profitabiltity of independent television stations can be attributed to reliance on satellite technology. In this same period the FCC also began to allow more station licenses and frequencies per market.

One area of FCC regulation supported by INTV involved the financial interest and syndication rules. These rules restricted network ownership and future syndication rights to the programs they broadcast and gave those rights to the shows' producers. The restrictions created an aftermarket for network shows which could not be controlled by ABC, CBS or NBC. With access to satellite distribution independent stations had easier ways to purchase and receive shows and to reach new markets. Due to these changes, INTV's number of member stations--and its power--grew.

In the context of American broadcasting, largely defined by networked stations, independent stations had three obstacles to overcome. The first was the ability to obtain programming at a reasonable cost and in spite of competition from richer affiliate stations in the same local market. INTV eventually advocated support of the Primetime Access Rule (PTAR), which strengthened the syndication industry and made more shows available for independent stations. The PTAR required an hour each day for local programming and succeeded partially because of INTV lobbying efforts. With the implementation of this rule, every type of station, whether network affiliate or independent, had a scheduling space in which independent producers could place shows.

The second obstacle was related to advertising, life-blood of the American broadcasting industries. Independent stations generally provided advertisers with a "spot" market based on demographics rather than on audience size. But the advertisers had routinely placed national commercials with the national programmers who delivered the huge mass audience. Sponsors were unaware, in some ways, of the profit available from wooing audience segments defined by shared age, wealth or product purchasing characteristics. This obstacle was exacerbated in 1970 when Congress banned cigarette advertising on television. This greatly reduced the advertising revenue available to electronic media and remaining dollars were keenly sought by all operating stations.

The third obstacle was the audience itself. Independent stations had to provide viewers with shows as compelling as network programs. In addition, UHF stations had to make audiences aware of their very existence and their program schedules. In 1978, only 91 independent stations aired programming, but this mushroomed to 321 by the close of 1988. Most of these stations telecast on newly allocated UHF frequencies with less signal strength and poorer picture quality than the network affiliates making their identity problems even more difficult. At first, many independent's schedules followed a similar format: movies each night during primetime, network reruns during the day, strong news hours at primetime access and religious programming on weekends.

By 1980, INTV's members looked toward the burgeoning cable television industry as a way to increase both viewership reach and advertising revenues. Instead, however, cable providers offered new options for the viewer and actually hurt independent stations in local markets. Independent stations began legal battles, seeking to require local cable operators to carry their signal on local systems, an issue not resolved until 1992.

The entire landscape for independent television stations in the United States changed in 1985 when Rupert Murdoch purchased Twentieth Century FOX Studios from Marvin Davis. Murdoch appointed Barry Diller, formerly of ABC Television and Paramount Studios, to head the venture. Diller believed enough unaffiliated stations existed to support a fourth television network. Murdoch then purchased the Metromedia Corporation with its owned independent stations in the largest U.S. cities, a foundation of that allowed Diller and Murdoch to begin the FOX Broadcasting Company.

 



Courtesy of INTV

The new FOX network satisfied INTV stations' needs for regular access to relatively inexpensive programming from Hollywood suppliers. This programming also attracted national advertisements and appealed to the local audience. In signing its new affiliates FOX recruited heavily from INTV member stations, and for the next few years, INTV held its annual conventions in tandem with FOX affiliate meetings in Los Angeles. These meetings had a profound impact upon the burgeoning fourth network. At the 1988 meeting, the INTV/FOX affiliates made FOX change its operations strategy. Instead of seeking the best producers, who would design programs according to their own tastes and interests, the network now sought to satisfy its member stations. The first result was the cancellation of FOX's short-lived late night replacement show, The Wilton North Report. INTV's leader, Preston Padden, worked closely with FOX executives to institute the pro-affiliate change.

But INTV made a philosophical break from FOX and began focusing its service on non-FOX members. As FOX's early a-few-days-a-week schedule increased, the organization showed signs of becoming a network as defined by the FCC rather than a conglomeration of truly independent stations. In 1990, when 30% fewer station members attended the annual INTV meeting, syndicators began curtailing their presence at the organization's conventions. As a result, INTV began holding its conventions in conjunction with NATPE (National Association of Television Programming Executives), a meeting that attracted far more syndicators than did the FOX affiliate's meeting. FOX hired Padden away from INTV to become its senior vice president for affiliate relations and later, vice president of government relations.

Presently, INTV has welcomed the advent of still more new-network-start-up programming services from Warner Brothers and Paramount studios. The new arrangements have once again provided greater advertising revenue and easier program acquisition for the INTV members affiliated with the new networks. But these affiliations have not lessened the power or interests of INTV. Currently, association leaders are looking toward telephone companies for video dialtone possibilities and as a means for greater audience access to television programming.

As of March 1995, only 84 stations in the U.S. had no program provider affiliation according to David Donovan, vice president of legal and legislative affairs for INTV. Of the other 301 stations considered independent, FOX Broadcasting Company had 150 as affiliates, United Paramount Network had 96, Warner Brothers had 45 and 10 stations have combined alliances with both FOX and UPN.

- Joan Stuller-Giglione

FURTHER READING

Dempsey, John. "Syndex, Must-Carry, Show Costs are Issues Confronting INTV." In Matelski, Marilyn J. and Thomas, David O., eds., Variety Broadcast-Video Sourcebook I 1989-1990. Boston: Focal Press, 1990.

Harris, Paul. "Campaign to Ballyhoo Free TV Launched at NAB Confab." In Matelski, Marilyn J. and Thomas, David O., eds., Variety Broadcast-Video Sourcebook I 1989-1990. Boston: Focal Press, 1990.

McClellan, Stephen. "Some syndicators cutting back on INTV presence." Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), September 3, 1990.

_____________. "Raining on INTV's parade." Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), January 7, 1991.