The battle for Belo Broadcasting’s KIRO Seattle, which has been on the block, was won by Viacom’s Paramount Station Group in a complex swap between Belo, Viacom and Cox Broadcasting that left several other interested parties, including Fox Broadcasting, out in the cold.
In the transaction, Belo is swapping its UPN affil KIRO Seattle for Paramount’s KMOV, a CBS affiliate in St. Louis; Cox will then trade its Seattle outlet, CBS affiliate KSTW, and between $50 million and $70 million for Paramount’s KIRO. While many are wondering why Paramount did not simply swap stations with Belo, observers suspect that in addition to the lure of the cash, another deal down the road involving Cox may be in the works.
Once the Seattle deal is done, KIRO will become a CBS affiliate and KSTW will be a UPN-owned outlet. Both are VHF outlets in the nation’s 12th-largest market, with KIRO being the stronger station.
Belo had to sell KIRO because it had recently acquired the Providence Journal Broadcast Group, which owns NBC affiliate KING Seattle. FCC regs prohibit one company from owning two outlets in one market.
UPN and its parent Paramount were worried that Fox, which is affiliated with Kelly Broadcasting’s Seattle VHF outlet KCPQ, or another broadcaster would acquire KIRO, leaving UPN looking for a home. Fox and News Corp. topper Rupert Murdoch have for some time wanted to own a station in Seattle, and had been trying to work out a swap with Belo. But the latter apparently wanted too much in return.
Meanwhile, Fox affil KCPQ can breathe a sigh of relief for now. The station had been worried about losing its Fox affiliation. Fox is also said to have had talks with Kelly Broadcasting to make KCPQ pay reverse compensation for it to keep the affiliation. However, with Fox now having nowhere to go but UHF KTZZ, which is the WB affil, it would seem very unlikely that the network will be flexing its muscle.
Meanwhile, back in St. Louis
There are still missing links. For starters, UPN has no primary affiliate in St. Louis, only a secondary affiliation with UHF ABC affil KDNL. Viacom is said to have threatened CBS last year with dumping the network’s affiliation with KMOV St. Louis and making it a UPN station if Paramount Network Television’s “Almost Perfect” wasn’t picked up for the fall season (a scenario CBS execs say was only a joke). Since that didn’t happen — and Belo now will own KMOV — UPN still needs a permanent home. There is speculation that Viacom may make a run at another station in the market for UPN to justify unloading its current outlet there.
For Viacom, this deal is part of the company’s strategy to unload its network affiliates in favor of UPN outlets. It also recently traded its Big Three affils in Albany and Rochester to Hubbard Broadcasting for its Tampa UPN outlet. While many in the industry wondered how Viacom persuaded Hubbard to trade a strong station in a growing market for two stations in declining markets, sources say Viacom reminded Hubbard that it was the provider of key programming to Hubbard’s direct satellite service USSB, and a deal was made.
Separately, Viacom also struck an agreement to acquire Paxson Broadcasting’s WPBF West Palm Beach for $34 million. However, Viacom will not hold on to the station, and will instead assign it to another broadcaster down the road.