WASHINGTON — CBS could own the UPN weblet under a proposed rule change now being weighed by the five FCC commissioners.
Industry sources said last week that agency staffers have written a proposed a change to the so-called dual network rule that would allow a major net such as CBS to own a smaller web such as UPN. The rule would not, however, free one company to own two major networks such as CBS and NBC.
The proposal comes after the recent news that Viacom is purchasing UPN from its partner Chris Craft for $5 million. Viacom, in turn, plans to merge with CBS, leaving the merged company in possession of two networks — which is banned under current rules.
Want permanent fix
Lobbyists with CBS and Viacom have asked for a permanent change to the rules rather than a waiver to an existing rule.
FCC sources say CBS and Viacom lobbyists have suggested that the only hope for UPN’s future is under CBS’ ownership. The lobbyists point out that Chris Craft could not find its own partner for the network and was forced to sell its stake to Viacom for just $5 million.
The FCC is expected to invite comments on the proposed rule change sometime in the next several weeks.
Turner approves change
In an appearance in Washington last week, Time Warner vice chairman Ted Turner said he did not oppose the rule change even though his company has a stake in UPN rival the WB network. Turner pointed out that cable entities have long been allowed to own several networks and he does not see why broadcasting should be any different.
One broadcast industry lobbyist did point out that the proposed rule would only benefit major networks. The lobbyist pointed out that the proposal is silent on the networks’ regulatory Holy Grail: a change in current rules that would allow major webs to buy more stations. Fox, NBC, ABC and CBS want the current cap, which limits broadcasters to owning stations that collectively reach no more than 35% of the country, increased to at least 50%, if not eliminated all together.