Affils compete for rights to b’cast CW

Fox decides what to do with UPN affils from Chris-Craft

Let the affiliate bake-off begin.

Although Tribune and CBS will affiliate their stations with the new CW network in most major markets, that still leaves stations in several cities to duke it out for rights to broadcast the new fifth net.

It also leaves Fox to figure out what to do next with the major-market UPN affils it bought from Chris-Craft in 2001.

Warner Bros. TV Group prexy Bruce Rosenblum said the new network hasn’t had a chance to figure out how to tackle the net’s distribution.

“We’ll try to craft the strongest distribution situation we can,” he said. “We’ve got the luxury of having strong affiliates at both networks in many markets.”

The creation of CW was possible thanks to the WB’s ongoing negotiations to craft a new affil deal with Tribune as well as the expiration of UPN’s News Corp. deal in August. (A jump ball also opened up in several midsized markets, where Sinclair Broadcasting’s deal to air the WB on 17 stations was expiring.)

Warner Entertainment chairman-CEO Barry Meyer said News Corp. wasn’t informed of the CW announcement until Tuesday morning; both Warner and CBS had opted early on to partner with Tribune.

“We felt Tribune in the major markets made a stronger platform for us,” Meyer said. “We thought their station mix was stronger.”

CBS Corp. leader Leslie Moonves said he informed News Corp.’s Peter Chernin and Fox stations topper Roger Ailes about the new network Tuesday morning.

“They were both gentlemen and professional about it,” said Moonves, who believed News Corp. had been set to renew its UPN affil deal.

News Corp. spokesman Andrew Butcher said the company — caught off guard by the announcement — hadn’t yet decided what to do with its UPN stations, which include WWOR New York and KCOP Los Angeles.

“We’re certainly not concerned,” he said. “This is a change we’ll use as an opportunity to revamp primetime on those stations.”

News Corp. had previously mulled dropping the UPN affiliation back when it first purchased the stations and even considered launching its own secondary network.

But insiders said it’s unlikely News Corp. would launch another network at this point.

“If anyone tried to start a sixth network, they’d have to start from ground zero,” Rosenblum said. “That’s a serious uphill battle.”

Still, the company could create a national programming service, perhaps utilizing the resources of its Twentieth Television syndie arm.

“You could do a five-night-a-week service, perhaps with a telenovela,” one exec said.

Or the stations could market themselves as local-centric independent stations. Prior to its UPN affiliation, KCOP branded itself as “Very Independent.”

The sudden appearance of independent stations across the country could be a boon to syndicators, as former WB and UPN affils scramble to fill primetime hours. It’s also possible some orphaned stations may opt to switch to one of the fast-growing Spanish-language networks.

Rosenblum said the distribution teams from both the WB and UPN will get together in the coming weeks to create a strategy for clearing the CW network across the country.

For stations that ultimately sign on with the CW, the net’s owners have set aside money to help brand and launch it in local markets.

Meanwhile, the CW will inherit the WB’s 100+ station group, the net’s band of small-market cable-only outlets.

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