Paramount and Chris-Craft Television have added two new affiliates to their proposed jointly owned fifth network, the first announcement of signings for either Par or the rival Warner Bros. weblet in weeks.
The additions of KTVD in Denver, recently acquired by the owner of Par’s Chicago affil WPWR, and KAIL in Fresno put the Par Network at 21 affils covering seven of the top 10 markets and 40% of the country.
Warner Bros.’ competing fifth network effort is at 19 broadcast affiliates with 42% coverage.
Additionally, WB plans to use Tribune’s Chicago flagship cable superstation, WGN-TV, to supplement its coverage and bring its total to 72% of the U.S. (Tribune owns the station group that encompasses WB’s top markets.)
WB already has affils in Denver, the nation’s 21st-largest market (Tribune’s KWGN-TV) and the 56th-ranked market of Fresno (Pappas Telecasting’s recently acquired KGMC-TV).
Paramount TV Group chairman Kerry McCluggage attributes the lull in affiliate signings over the past month to the holidays and “other factors”– namely the uncertainty over whether QVC Network chairman Barry Diller will pull out of the weblet venture if he gains control of the studio.
Diller has vowed to sell off the Par-owned stations, one of theweblet’s key groups, partly because regulations would prevent his major phone company investor, BellSouth, from owning them.
Despite his past comments opposing the network idea, sources involved in the Par/Chris-Craft venture express confidence that they will be able to convince Diller to proceed with the weblet — even if it means changing one or two deal points to win his approval — and that Chris-Craft won’t have to partner with another studio.
As for the Par stations, they say the new owners could still carry the weblet fare. Others that support the WB effort are convinced that Diller will kill the Par net and assert other studios would be reluctant to sign on with Chris-Craft if Par pulls out.
The anchor of the weblet will be a new “Star Trek” spinoff, which Chris-Craft could use as leverage to entice another major such as Disney, Sony or MCA.
For its part, WB is apparently taking a wait-and-see attitude before deciding how to proceed. The studio has not announced any new affil signings and has pushed back its planned first night of programming from the summer to the end of the year.
Par backers say that all the major station groups have verbally committed to carry the weblet but are waiting to see who wins the Viacom-QVC battle for control of the studio.
McCluggage says Par is sticking with its policy of not commenting on new affils until the deal is signed.
“We have an ongoing effort to recruit affiliates in those (unsigned) markets, ” he says. “We believe there is wide acceptance of our plan and that will pay off in additional announcements shortly.”