Fox ‘Nets local plan

Network ties nationwide idea to smaller portals

PHOENIX — Fox is thinking locally with its latest Internet venture.

The network is expected to announce today plans to create a network of local-centric Internet portals in concert with Fox-owned stations and affiliates. Bob Quicksilver, president of network distribution at Fox, will unveil the blueprint this morning at the web’s affiliate confab in Phoenix.

According to execs familiar with the local portal plan, which is still in an early stage of development, Fox hopes to create a continuous flow of traffic between national-based and local-based sites on the web.

“The idea is to build strong local portals to allow the local stations to leverage off Fox’s national brands,” said one source with knowledge of the initiative. “This is a unique opportunity to capture the local Internet audience.”

Viewer mail

Under the plan, viewers would use their local Fox station’s site as a destination for e-mail, chat rooms, games, movie listings, directories, classified ads, local news and other features. Stations would utilize national Fox brands (such as Foxnews.com, Fox.com, WebMD) to drive local traffic, while Fox would draw users to its national sites through those local portals.

Stations would work closely with Fox corporate sibling News Digital Media, led by prexy Jon Richmond.

“In the process, we’d generate new revenue streams, such as e-commerce opportunities,” the source said.

Fox will tap a number of its owned stations in the next few months to launch its first round of local portals. The network hasn’t yet determined a business plan to present affiliates, but is expected to set some target dates soon.

Affils to discuss digital

Meanwhile, as outside temperatures reach 110 degrees, affiliates will meet inside this morning to discuss such key topics as the fate of the Fox Kids Network and Fox’s impending digital plans.

The network has no plans to announce a major initiative for the digital spectrum just yet. Fox Group chairman/CEO Peter Chernin, who also serves as president/chief operating officer at News Corp., said the company continues to test potential uses for digital.

“We’re doing a fair amount of work, but we haven’t figured it out yet,” Chernin said.

Fox is now including a provision in its affiliation agreements that involve keeping the digital spectrum available. Chernin said he hopes stations will keep open the eventual possibility of pacting with Fox in whatever venture the network eventually launches.

“Affiliates, just like ourselves, are looking for the best place to exploit their spectrum,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine individual affiliates doing better by themselves than working together with us.”

Fox affiliates were mostly upbeat about the season ahead.

“We look forward to them getting us restored to our rightful position as No. 1 in adults 18 to 49,” said Cullie Tarleton, chairman of the Fox Affiliates Board and senior VP of television and cable at Bahakel Communications. “We liked what we saw.”

Code name: “Platco”

Kicking off the first day of meetings on Monday, Fox Group chairman/CEO Peter Chernin filled affiliates in on News Corp.’s global platform initiative, code named “Platco.”

The company is expected to announce the initiative, which combines News Corp.’s satellite platforms worldwide, in the coming weeks.

“In many ways, Platco is going to be the defining vehicle for us in global distribution,” said Chase Carey, chairman/CEO at Fox Television.

Also, Fox affiliates got their first look at the team brought in under Fox Television Entertainment Group chair Sandy Grushow. Incoming Entertainment prexy Gail Berman, who doesn’t officially begin until next month, logged her first official appearance as the net’s programming chief and joined Grushow onstage to discuss the network’s fall lineup.

“This was my first TelePrompTer experience,” she joked.

New longform head Marci Pool and scheduling head Preston Beckman both marked their first day at the company.

November sweeps plans

Berman announced plans for four November sweeps events, including the Nash Entertainment testosterone pageant “The Sexiest Bachelor in America.” Also, the net will air “Divorce Me,” which follows couples in the process of getting divorced. (The show was inspired by the success of the firstrun Twentieth Television strip “Divorce Court,” which airs on many Fox- owned and affiliated outlets.)

The net has another installment of its successful May stunt “The Smartest Kid in America” in the works, and Spelling will produce the long-expected “90210: The Next Generation,” a two-hour movie featuring a new cast, which might include cameos from some of the original “90210” stars.

U.S. senator from Arizona and former presidential candidate John McCain also spoke to affiliates, and afterward voiced his support for Fox’s fight to repeal the FCC’s station ownership cap. Fox filed suit last week after the FCC ruled that it would continue to prevent station groups from owning outlets whose combined reach is greater than 35% of the country.

“As usual, the FCC is stuck in the 19th century,” McCain said. “It takes them 700 days to approve or disapprove the sale of a low-power TV station in Pittsburgh. That shows you how well they can keep up with what’s going on in a dramatically changing industry.”

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