There’s a slight thaw in the bitterly cold battle between the WB and UPN. Jamie Kellner’s Acme Communications and the Paramount Stations Group will soon begin sharing programming in six markets where the two weblets don’t compete.
Under the deal, the Paramount-owned UPN stations in Columbus, Ohio, West Palm Beach, Fla., and Providence, R.I., will carry some WB programming out of pattern. At the same time, Acme’s WB stations in St. Louis, Knoxville, Tenn., and Champaign-Decatur-Springfield, Ill., will air some UPN skeins.
“Maybe there’s something we can do for each other here that makes sense for both of us rather than just continuing to call each other names,” said Paramount Stations Group chief Tony Cassara.
With Paramount’s WWHO Columbus and WLWC Providence about to make a long-planned switch from the WB to UPN, Paramount and Acme execs began discussing a potential alliance last fall.
Paramount had been operating WWHO and WLWC as WB primary affils and secondary UPN affils after acquiring those stations in 1997. With those pre-existing affiliation contracts set to expire, the two stations will air UPN in pattern as of April.
Under the new deal, WWHO and WLWC will still offer the WB’s full 13-hour sked. Paramount’s West Palm Beach UPN affil, WTVX, will broadcast six hours of the WB beginning this fall.
In exchange, Acme’s WBUI Champaign-Decatur-Springfield and WBXX Knoxville have already begun airing three hours of UPN programming, while KPLR St. Louis will add three hours of UPN in the fall. In all three cases, the stations have picked up “WWF Smackdown” and “Star Trek: Voyager.”
“Obviously, those shows in particular not only perform well but target the same demo as the WB,” said Doug Gealy, Acme’s chief operating officer. “This is one of those rare deals where everyone won.”
After a chilly start, Acme and UPN have already been forging a relationship, despite the fact that Acme is owned by Kellner, CEO of the WB. Acme recently regained the right to air UPN programming on its Albuquerque duopoly station KASY. UPN had earlier pulled its affiliation after Acme acquired the station.
Cassara said the potential for partnership between the station groups is there, especially now that both weblets are targeting similar strains of the same young demo: young women for the WB, young men for UPN.
“Frankly, the press has made a lot of the rivalry between the two networks,” he said. “But the success of one network is entirely divorced from the success or failure of the other one.”
The Acme stations picked up fewer hours because the stations, particularly KPLR, represent larger markets. Plus, Cassara noted, two of the three Paramount stations had already been airing the WB programming, while the Acme stations hadn’t previously programmed any UPN offerings.
For all intents and purposes, the deal gives UPN and WB secondary affiliations in a number of markets where they were not represented. But both sides were careful to avoid using the term “secondary affiliation,” instead comparing the deals to syndication licenses.
“We’re not going to brand our stations as the WB, nor will they brand themselves as UPN,” Cassara said. “For us they’re pure program license agreements.”
Still, both sides left the door open to possible marketing alliances. Also, the execs said provisions exist to void the deals in any given market should one of the networks land an affiliate.
According to both sides, the end result assures coverage in 3.825% of the country for both nets.
But don’t look too deeply into the new programming alliance, Gealy warned: The emerging nets aren’t about to merge.
“I don’t think the war is ever going to be over — they’re competitors — but both sides had needs, sat down and worked out a good plan,” Gealy said.