Kellner: Dereg boosts netlet's appeal to major affils

In the wake of the FCC’s recent deregulatory rulings, the WB affiliates stand to reap the biggest financial benefit, according to Frog chairman-CEO Jamie Kellner.

The relaxation of market duopolies make WB stations the most attractive mates to “marry themselves up” to major network affils owned by larger station groups, said Kellner, speaking to reporters at the Frog’s portion of the TV critics press tour.

“WB affiliates will be the hot commodity when the action begins,” he said. “Interesting opportunities are going to arise from the rule changes.”

That includes potential moves for Kellner’s own Acme station group, although the exec declined to discuss specifics.

But Kellner, who has built up a solid, debt-free group, has already shown he’s willing to sell. Acme sold two of its top stations, KPLR (in St. Louis) and KWBP (Salem, Ore.) to Tribune earlier this year.

Small station group owners of WB outlets likely to see a windfall include Pappas, Equity Broadcasting and Granite, which has already voiced its interest in selling its San Francisco and Detroit WB affils.

On the flip side, notes WB prexy Jed Petrick, major station group owners like Belo, Hearst-Argyle and LIN have already got their feet wet by running WB affils as duopolies in markets like Sacramento. Those groups may now be poised to pair up more of their stations with Frog outlets.

“These companies own one or two WBs and are tasting that success,” Petrick said. “These are guys who know how to run stations, and they’re coming into this at a 170-mile-an-hour pace.”

First things first

Kellner expects to particularly see a number of NBC/WB affiliate combos once the buying begins. But first the economy has to improve, and the move in Congress to roll back the FCC rulings will have to die down, he said.

“Until that’s all cleared up, you’re not going to see momentum,” he said. “But once it gets going, the stations are going to go quickly.”

As for his own future at the WB, Kellner said he continues to pull back duties as chief executive of the network. Kellner, who will officially depart the WB once his contract expires next July, spends one day a week at the network.

“These guys are doing a good job,” Kellner said of his de facto replacements Petrick and entertainment president Jordan Levin.

Kellner also said the Frog will reorganize its structure somewhat in the next year, timed to his departure.

Elsewhere at the WB press tour:

  • Execs said they haven’t ruled out picking up a primetime run of HBO’s “Sex and the City.”

    Frog execs will first wait and see what kind of syndication deal HBO secures for a cut-down, sanitized version of the series. Cabler chief Chris Albrecht last week said HBO was close to securing an off-net deal for the show (Daily Variety, July 11).

    Depending on the exclusivity nature of that pact — and how the shortened, 22-minute version looks — corporate sibling the WB is still interested in the show.

    HBO approached the major nets earlier this year about picking up the cleaned-up “Sex”; all four webs passed.

  • The star of the net’s “Steve Harvey’s Big Time” backtracked from comments he made criticizing the Frog at another press tour 18 months ago.

    At that time, the star of the web’s “The Steve Harvey Show” laffer, blasted the network for paying him less than some of its white stars.

    Now back at the WB, Harvey sheepishly admitted that he may have opened his mouth a little too wide last time around. The comedian instead found a new target: advertisers.

    Advertisers don’t feel the need to pay a premium for African-American viewers, since that population watches more television, he said.

    “That’s not right,” he said. “But that is the process.”

  • The WB has signed young thesp Hilary Duff (“The Lizzie McGuire Movie”) to star in two music-themed specials this fall.

    Duff, who recently dropped ties with Disney, will star in the fall special “Hilary Duff Birthday Celebration,” timed to her 16th birthday and the release of her debut CD.

    She’ll also headline a Christmas special; guests for both hourlongs will be announced later.

    “We’re thrilled to be starting a relationship with the Duff family and hope this is the beginning of a long alliance,” Levin said.

    Bob Bain (“Billboard Music Awards”) has signed on to exec produce both specials.

    Levin said pacting with teen stars like Duff and “Pepsi Smash” co-host Amanda Bynes (who also stars in “What I Like About You”) reps an effort to “always stay vital with a younger audience.”

    “There’s an inevitable aging process, and you really have to make an effort to maintain stability with your median age,” he said.

  • Pepsi has won the cola wars — at least at the WB.

    Coca-Cola, which once partnered with the Frog on the summer series “Young Americans,” was nowhere to be found Sunday at the WB’s press tour presentation, while Pepsi, diet Pepsi and Aquafina flowed throughout the hallways of the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel.

    Pepsi, of course, is producing two skeins this summer for the network: the music series “Pepsi Smash” and Drew Carey-fronted contest “Play for a Billion.”

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