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CBS affils play ball with Fox

With the start of the National Football League season five months away, Fox Broadcasting has signed up more than two dozen TV stations to carry its coverage of the National Football Conference.

Last week was especially fruitful for Fox. The network is said to have closed about 20 new affiliation agreements at the National Assn. of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. All the signings are in smaller markets where Fox previously had no affiliation for its network programming.

While Fox senior vice president Preston Padden was unavailable for comment, two-thirds of the network’s new agreements are secondary affiliations with CBS affils. The stations will remainprimarily CBS affiliates, but will carry Fox’s NFC coverage and some of Fox’s primetime programming.

CBS is none too pleased with these new developments. For starters, stations that agree to carry the NFL but want to keep their Eye web affiliation, will be unable to carry “60 Minutes”– the network’s top-rated show.

For WSBT-TV South Bend, Ind., the choice of the NFL or “60 Minutes” was an easy one.

“Our viewers have turned to our channel since the 1950s for NFC games — we couldn’t let them down,” said James Freeman, president and general manager of WSBT-TV.

Those viewers who have turned to the station since the mid-’60s for “60 Minutes” are out of luck. CBS will look to air the show on a rival station in the market.

In a statement, CBS affiliate relations prexy Tony Malara said while WSBT is free to choose the programming it carries, the station’s inability to carry CBS in its time period for five months means “60 Minutes” will go elsewhere. The memo adds that CBS will have to consider the impact of WSBT’s apparent inability to carry “60 Minutes” on its long-term relationship to CBS. Fox, on the other hand, won’t stop with the NFL. Secondary affiliates will be required to carry upward of six hours of Fox’s primetime programming somewhere on their schedule.

Fox’s willingness to accept secondary affiliations represents a change of heart by the network. When it first landed the NFL in January, Fox told CBS affiliates they could carry the games only if they would dump the Eye web and sign on with Fox.

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