WGN extends deal for WB net

Tribune Broadcasting-owned Chicago superstation WGN-TV has reportedly committed to carry the proposed Warner Bros. fifth network for up to three years , reversing its previous stance.

Trib officials had earlier said the Chicago indie would take the WB Network in year one, and only if the studio were unable to sign another market affiliate.

But with WGN and WB now in final negotiations for the basic cable superstation to carry the weblet (Daily Variety, Nov. 29), sources said terms of the broadcast arrangement in the nation’s third-largest TV market have been revised.

A key factor in WGN’s decision to prolong its commitment apparently stems from WB’s recent moves to slow the pace of the weblet’s primetime rollout, which had initially been slated to expand from one night next summer to seven nights by 1998 (Daily Variety, Nov. 16).

Under the revised proposal, WB Network chief exec Jamie Kellner has said the weblet will follow the same path as Fox Broadcasting, which took 18 months to reach a third night and more than five years to hit seven nights.

The lengthier rollout period will permit WGN to carry the weblet as well as its heavy load of sports, according to sources.

It had been widely anticipated that WB would affiliate with Combined Broadcasting-owned WGBO-TV in Chicago after the market’s stronger indie, WPWR, teamed with the rival Paramount/Chris-Craft weblet.

Now, however, WB will be able to establish itself on one of Chicago’s strongest indies before jumping to another station in two or three years.

That, of course, is contingent on the WB Network getting off the ground. Although the studio is seeking to add the WGN superchannel feed, which would substantially increase the weblet’s coverage to more than 70% of the country, WB is still actively pursuing new broadcast affiliation deals. While it would gain a big lead in coverage over Par with the addition of the WGN national carriage, the impact on the WB Network’s national ratings would be negligible.

The superstation generally gets a half rating point or less in all markets in which it appears. Among markets where Par has already secured affiliation agreements with the only viable indie, WGN averages a 0.5 in Indianapolis, a 0.2 in Charlotte, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn., and a 0.1 in Salt Lake City.

While WB currently holds a slight 42% to 38% advantage in broadcast clearances over Par/Chris-Craft, the Par Net is winning key head-to-head battles for crucial station groups.

River City Broadcasting last week committed its stations in San Antonio and Indianapolis to Par, leading WB to suggest that its rival was basically willing to give away the Par-owned San Antonio station to River City in order to get the affiliation deal — an allegation that Par and River City execs adamantly deny.

Industry sources say that at least two other station groups, Clear Channel and Sinclair, are leaning toward Par as well.

With the WB Network at a critical juncture, Trib is reportedly willing to commit WGN to WB for a longer term (possibly sacrificing higher primetime ratings) and turn over its superchannel national feed to the studio.

Trib has a vested interest in seeing the proposed WB fifth network succeed, with the broadcaster holding an option to buy into the fully owned studio weblet in the future. Chris-Craft already owns a half interest in the Par Net.

Final details of the superstation arrangement between WB and WGN are expected to be ironed out over the next day or two. The deal could give WB some breathing room, keeping the weblet afloat in the event that QVC chairman Barry Diller wins the battle for control of Par, scratches the network idea and sells off the studio’s stations.

Because WB will offer its broadcast affiliates syndicated exclusivity — in other words, black out the superstation signal in those markets — WGN cable distributor United Video will likely increase the number of national feeds from one to two. The second feed would enable WGN to send alternative programming to markets such as Los Angeles, where the WB Network would be blacked out.

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