ABC beat back a strong pitch from Fox to land Freedom Broadcasting’s WLNE Providence as its new affiliate in market No. 46.

WLNE is currently affiliated with CBS, but the Eye web has a deal to buy Providence’s ABC affiliate WPRI from Naragansett Television for a price estimated to be in the $80 million $90 million range.

Fox, which is currently affiliated with Argyle Television’s WNAC, wanted to switch from the UHF station on channel 64 to the more desirable VHF channel position of WLNE.

Although Fox is said to have pulled out all stops to win WLNE over, Freedom opted to go with ABC for a long-term deal that also includes Freedom-owned ABC affiliate WTVC Chattanooga, Tenn.

But all is not lost for Fox in Providence. Outlet Communications, which owns NBC affiliates WJAR there and WCMH Columbus, Ohio and indie WNCN Raleigh-Durham, N.C., is looking for buyers. Although NBC a few months back said it had entered into long-term affiliation agreements with NBC, those agreements have not been signed, according to industry sources.

That being the case, look for Fox to go after the stations as affiliates. Fox or SF Broadcasting, the Fox and Savoy Pictures-backed broadcaster, may also bid on the stations. SF, after almost a year of FCC scrutiny, has been given the go-ahead to acquire stations. Earlier this week, SF closed on NBC affiliate WLUK Green Bay which it acquired from Burnham Broadcasting for $38 million. SF is also buying Burnham’s ABC affiliate in New Orleans and NBC affiliates in Mobile, Ala. and Honolulu for $230 million.

ABC’s inking WLNE to a long-term agreement ends Fox’s recent streak of wooing stations away from ABC.

Last month, Fox signed WSJV South Bend, Indiana away from ABC and appears to have locked ABC out of the 86th market. Fox also lured ABC affiliate WLOV Tupelo, Miss, away from the Alphabet web. In that market, as in South Bend, ABC will likely have to rely on cable coverage from out-of-market stations.

Besides its usual pitch of more local ad time to sell and less network programming to deal with, Fox has started to up the ante on affiliate compensation. Because of Fox’s deal with New World Communications that saw 12 major market network affils defect to the weblet, all three networks have had dramatically to increase their affiliate compensation by at least $50 million each.

In South Bend, industry sources said Fox may have at least doubled the $300,000-$400,000 estimated annual compensation that WSJV got from ABC.

Fox execs said rumors that they topped the $1 million mark land the to South Bend station are false, but acknowledged that in smaller markets, the wallet must be opened.

“The economics of three station markets are very different from markets with four or more stations,” said Preston Padden, head of Fox’s network distribution.

Fox has waited almost two years to expand its TV station group, so another 45 days shouldn’t hurt the numerous deals on hold at the FCC.

Unlike the SF Broadcasting deal in Green Bay which came this close to collapsing, Fox’s pending deals are in no immediate danger.

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