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Fox affil board asks for loyalty

Again rallying around the network, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s affiliate association board has written Fox stations urging them not to support rival studio-backed networks that could “dilute” the Fox brand-name identity.

The move would seem to be a preemptive strike against any effort by Paramount or Warner Bros. — both of whom are attempting to launch so-called fifth networks — to cut deals with Fox outlets, following an unconfirmed report that Paramount has inked a deal with Cannell Communications’ WHNS in Greenville, S.C. , a Fox affiliate.

Warner Bros. has also drawnfire from Fox and Big Three network execs by announcing that the cable portion of its plan, dubbed WEB, would ask local broadcast affiliate partners to promote WB programs on their air. That approach and certain other initial aspects of the plan have since been downplayed by WB Network chief exec Jamie Kellner, the former president-chief operating officer of Fox (Daily Variety, Nov. 16).

The missive, sent out by Fox affiliate board chairman Gregg Filandrinos, says in regard to secondary network affiliations, “Any new network can only wish and hope to someday approach what Fox affiliates have already built — a clear, undiluted, distinctive, unique brand name identity.

“Any such new networks,” the memo warns, “will be promoted nationally and across media in an effort to penetrate our local markets using their own distinctive brand name logos. We should not help them dilute our own valuable identity.”

The memo draws a distinction between studio-sanctioned “networks” that push their own identity and “program-specific” syndication deals, such as first-run shows like “Star Trek: The Next Generation” or “Baywatch.”

The board reaction underscores the tight relationship between Fox Broadcasting and its affiliates, mirroring previous responses to efforts to secure such deals on Fox affiliates — beginning with the first “fifth network” scheme floated by MCA and Paramount, as a partnership under their Premier Program Service barter ad sales unit, in 1989.

Fox stations also rallied around the weblet shortly thereafter — with help, at least in some cases, from Fox arm-twisting — when Disney’s syndicated “The Disney Afternoon” block came into conflict with initial plans for the Fox Children’s Network.

Paramount, which started with 10 outlets from its own stations and members of the Chris-Craft station group, is up to 15 affiliates, with recent additions in Cleveland, Chicago and Nashville. Warner Bros.’ core relationship is with the seven Tribune Broadcasting stations.

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