Fox fires back over WGBS

After taking a public tongue-lashing from Paramount, Fox Thursday defended its decision to buy a UHF indie in Philadelphia and to chuck its affiliation pact in the market with Par-owned WTXF.

Fox issued a statement insisting that Par had “long known that ownership of a TV station in Philadelphia, the fourth-largest TV market in the country, was strategically important” to the company’s TV station wing.

When Combined Communications’ WGBS in Philadelphia came on the market, Fox asserted that it advised Par of its interest.

“Indeed, Paramount itself expressed interest in acquiring WGBS,” the statement noted.

Some interpreted the move as a public signal that Fox doesn’t want to be in business any longer with Par — which also owns weblet affils in Detroit (WKBD), Raleigh/Durham, N.C. (WLFL) and San Antonio, Texas (KRRT) — but Fox denied it.

“Our acquisition of WGBS captured a strategic opportunity and was not aimed at Paramount, with whom we hope to have a friendly and profitable relationship in any number of other contexts,” the Fox statement read.

Par had expressed outrage over the WGBS deal, particularly since its WTXF was previously forced by Fox to give up its lucrative Philadelphia Phillies baseball franchise in order to keep its affiliation.

Par’s next move?

Officials at Par were in meetings throughout the day Thursday exploring their options, which could include discarding Fox affiliation pacts in the three remaining markets and forming some sort of fifth broadcast network in association with the Chris-Craft/United station group.

If Par decides to end its relationship with Fox Broadcasting, the weblet would likely be hurt the most in the nation’s ninth largest market, Detroit, and in the No. 32 market of Raleigh/Durham.

The most likely landing spot for Fox in Detroit is WXON-TV, which is considered a weaker independent station than Par’s WKBD. And while there are a few other indies in Raleigh/Durham, Fox could be hard-pressed to find a suitable replacement there.

In the No. 36 market of San Antonio, however, Fox has the advantage. Barry Baker, the owner of River City Broadcasting, has a close relationship with the company and would undoubtedly be happy to gain the profitable Fox affiliation for his indie in the market, KABB-TV.

A number of broadcasting sources said they believe that Fox has forced Par’s hand to form a network in association with Chris-Craft,which, as previously reported (Daily Variety, Aug. 19), is considered the front-runner to acquire the Combined stations in Chicago and Miami.

Creating a traditional or enlarged ad-hoc network may be the only way to enhance the value of Par’s Philadelphia station in the post-Fox era, sources said.

If Par and Chris-Craft chose to build a web with their groups as a base, they would likely go after indies not affiliated with Fox.

There’s also the possibility that Par would attempt to steal away existing Fox affils and round out the web with basic cable channels — possibly as part of must-carry/retransmission consent agreements.

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