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San Diego affiliate threatens to ax UPN

Asks for non-duplication agreement to end San Diego-area penetration of L.A. station

UPN San Diego affil KUSI is threatening to drop its affiliation with the netlet later this month if UPN does not agree to block out the San Diego cable coverage of UPN’s L.A. station, KCOP.

KUSI general manager Michael D. McKinnon said he has notified UPN he will not renew his affiliation agreement, which ends Jan. 16, unless he gets a network non-duplication agreement. On Wednesday, UPN execs said they are planning to ask the station for a 30-day extension to deal with the issue, but it’s unclear whether KUSI will go along.

KCOP reaches just more than 80% of San Diego-area residents via cable, which KUSI considers competition. Because the cable coverage is so high, UPN’s losses are mitigated if KUSI does indeed drop the network.

But no other stations are available in the market, and a 20% drop in coverage in the No. 26 market still is fairly significant, especially in light of UPN’s other affiliate problems of late.

Executives at the Sinclair Broadcast Group have said they are yanking most of their UPN affiliates, some of which are joining the WB. The latest Sinclair station said to be defecting to the WB on Jan. 16 is KUPN Las Vegas.

Sources at UPN say there’s still time to come to some agreement with KUSI, but the network has been somewhat reluctant to block out KCOP’s cable coverage until now because KUSI often preempts UPN programming or runs it out of pattern.

KUSI is a strong UPN affiliate, boosted by airing off-net “Seinfeld” and “Frasier” segs in the access hour leading into primetime. McKinnon is critical of UPN’s recent handling of its affiliates, including the cancellation of its first affiliate breakfast in New Orleans later this month.

“They need to get some people who know station operations,” McKinnon said. “They’ve got to get out of the Hollywood community. This guy (UPN CEO Dean) Valentine seems like a nice enough guy, but what does he know about TV stations?”

Valentine’s expertise is indeed in programming, not stations, but Valentine believes that if he gets the primetime lineup in order, the affiliates will follow. But the influence flows both ways. One UPN exec privately acknowledged that a couple of program suppliers are shying away from the network because of questions about distribution.

Regardless of what happens, UPN’s station lineup still is as strong, if not stronger than that of the WB network, even with the loss of Sinclair’s stations and KUSI. At UPN’s portion of the press tour Tuesday evening, Valentine said distribution is a temporary problem and that the network will replace any stations it loses.

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