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Inside Move: Fox trot

Net feels squeeze as small affils jump fence

A weak economy, the high expense of converting to digital TV and the end of network compensation has impacted most TV stations — but affils in tiny markets have been smacked hardest.

As a result, a growing number of small-time stations have swapped affiliations or gone dark.

Fox has been especially susceptible to defections, with Televisa this month switching its Texas border-town Fox affiliates in Brownsville/McAllen and Laredoto Spanish-language programming.

Fox also lost its Juneau, Alaska, affil, which went off the air entirely, and its Helena, Mont., station, which essentially went automated with a Pax TV feed. Late last year, the Pegasus station group flipped Fox’s Portland, Maine, and Jackson, Miss., affils to the WB.

And the net lost affils in Bluefield, W.Va., and Bozeman, Mont., to CBS, and its Bowling Green, Ky., station to NBC.

Fox has replaced most of those outlets with either its Fox Net cable service or affiliate signals from nearby markets. The net wouldn’t comment, but sources say many of those defections were out of the net’s hands, such as Televisa’s decision to tap into a lucrative Spanish-lingo market. Others, like the Pegasus defections, were more contentious affairs.

But Fox affils aren’t the only small-market stations to feel the pinch.

“You’re going to see a lot of tiny market guys struggling to survive in the coming years,” one stations exec says.

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