Wednesday, January 25, 2006

New Name, Old Stations, New Troubles

The UPN and WB television networks are merging to create the CW network this fall. Couldn't they have come up with a better name? "CW" flashes me back to my ham radio days. Maybe we should've added just one more letter -- like UWB? WBU?

But put that aside. While the merger is good for the guys at CBS (which owns UPN) and Time-Warner, it's going to be murder on their affiliates.

Here's the rub: WB and UPN both spent years building their affiliate bases. WB even created a cable-only network called the "WeB" to get into markets where they didn't have a broadcast outlet. A deal with Tribune put it on Chicago superstation WGN in the early years, giving it national coverage. UPN managed to scrape by with a hodge-podge of full-power affiliates, owned-and-operated stations, and several low-power affiliates that existed mainly to feed cable systems.

So after years of trying to get national coverage, we have numerous TV markets with both WB and UPN affilates. The question now is, who gets the new network?

Here in Tucson, we have UPN affilate KTTU and WB affiliate KWBA. I have no idea where CW is going, but this is what I see:

Scenario 1: KTTU gets CW. I'm putting my money on this one, mainly because of ownership. KTTU is owned by Belo, a powerful media company which also owns KMSB (Fox) in Tucson. Belo also runs the WB affiliate in Phoenix. I'm betting Belo will have enough corporate muscle to make deals in Tucson, Phoenix and maybe a few other markets. Never mind KTTU is mainly the second-run station for a lot of KMSB syndicated material along with more than a few informercials.

Scenario 2: KWBA gets CW. This could happen if Cascade Broadcasting argues KWBA has a higher profile in the community. It certainly can, even though it just ended its newscast partnership with KOLD. It has a recognizable personality in weather anchor/"Buzz" hostess Joan Lee. At one point, it was the WB's Station Of The Year. However, Cascade Broadcasting is not a major player. It's now only a two-station group, with outlets in Tucson and Louisville. It just sold a station in Oklahoma City.

Depending on where CW goes, that raises the question of what happens to the station left out in the cold. If KTTU were shunned, I'm thinking Belo would hold onto it as a true independent and use it as a re-run station. If KWBA is shunned, it might well cover the gaps with more syndicated programming or movies.

However, here's another possibilty. Maybe the losing station decides to flip to Spanish-language programming. It's certainly doable: Azteca America is on the air here, but on a puny low-power station nobody can see without cable. Univision and sister network Telefutura are both doing well here, and they have stations with the wattage to get them into homes. Telemundo is also doing all right. Azteca would love to have some of that pie.

Yet another possibility: a religious broadcaster like Daystar or TBN moves in, buys a station and flips to all God, all the time.

We shall see what happens in Tucson, but elsewhere, I wouldn't be surprised to see some UPN or WB affilates flip to Spanish, flip to religion, or flip off the transmitter entirely.

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