Paramount and Chris-Craft Tuesday upped the ante in their battle with Warner Bros. to establish a new broadcast network, announcing that two key Clear Channel Television stations as well as two belonging to Mercury Broadcasting have signed on as weblet affiliates.
Par timed the long-anticipated announcement to break on the busiest day of the NATPE convention to demonstrate the momentum of its planned fifth weblet. But Warner Bros. exec VP Barry Meyer vowed the studio will proceed with its plans and strongly endorsed the network blueprint designed by WB Network chief exec Jamie Kellner.
Clear Channel has committed stations with which it has local management agreements in Memphis, Tenn., and Tulsa, Okla., while Mercury Broadcasting has signed affiliate pacts forits Little Rock, Ark., and Mobile, Ala., stations.
The signings of the four stations — WLMT in Memphis, KTFO in Tulsa, KASN in Little Rock and WJTC in Mobile — are significant because they represent the only stations in their respective markets that are available to become affiliated with a new network, according to Paramount.
WB’s 30% offer
WB, which has not announced the signing of any new broadcast affiliates in weeks, is seeking to compensate for the lack of over-the-air shelf space by offering its weblet in 30% of the country via Tribune’s Chicago flagship cable superstation WGN-TV.
Dan Sullivan, president of Clear Channel Television, said in a statement that he agreed to affiliate his stations with Par because its “track record in broadcasting and programming will provide our stations with the strong identity needed in order to succeed in the competitive future.”
Mercury Broadcasting prez Chip Archer noted that Par’s network plan “is superior to any others we have seen” and cited “Star Trek: Voyager,” which will serve as the linchpin of the weblet, as playing a significant role in Mercury’s decision to line up with Par.
With the additional broadcast outlets, Par has signed six affils in the past week and increased the reach of its network to 25 stations covering more than 42 % of the country, up from 40%.
A dead heat
That puts Par into a virtual dead heat with WB in terms of broadcast coverage , although sources close to the Par network project say other major group operators have quietly committed to the programming venture.
WB is handicapped because, unlike Par and Chris-Craft, it doesn’t own any broadcast stations and has been forced to charge affiliates for its programs. Par has waived the reverse compensation fee because it can make up the large start-up costs of a new network with its own TV stations.
The big question, of course, is whether QVC chairman Barry Diller will commit to the weblet if he wins the Par takeover battle with Viacom. He has already sworn that he would sell the Par stations — a major component of the Par Network’s affiliate base — if he, rather than Viacom, gets the studio.
Chris-Craft officials have denied rumors their station group is holding discussions with other studios to take over for Par in the event that Diller blows out the weblet.
Still plugged in
As for WB, Meyer strongly denied rumors emanating from the opposing camp that the studio wanted to pull the plug on the weblet — at least until Kellner convinced top management to wait for the outcome of the Par ownership contest.
‘Better or worse’
He acknowledged that WB Network plans could get “better or worse depending on the broadcast affiliates that we have.”
The studio exec still believes that WB has the best plan by using stations and cable to surpass 70% coverage.
Par, on the other hand, is hoping to turn its ad-hoc approach into a more traditional network if its programming is a success.