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Affiliates match up odd couples

Nets improvise to edge into a market

Coming up, after an all-new “America’s Next Top Model”: the “Fujisankei News Express”!

Networks and affiliates sometimes make for strange bedfellows, but UPN’s new home in Honolulu takes the cake… er, mochi.

After several years of airing piecemeal on CBS affil KGMB, UPN last week moved its programming to independent outlet KIKU. The catch? KIKU airs mostly Japanese-language programming.

The distribution wars are mostly a thing of the past — and digital TV will make it obsolete as stations begin broadcasting multiple feeds over one signal. But sometimes, when there’s no other way to make it into a market, nets have to improvise.

Until recently, CBS and Telemundo shared the same station in El Centro, Calif./Yuma, Ariz., while the WB split time with a religious station in Fresno.

Even now, in smaller markets that can’t support stations for all six nets, it’s still common for rivals to share affils. The WB, for example, airs from 10 p.m. to midnight on the Fox station in Burlington, Vt., while UPN airs latenight on Fox outlets in Memphis, Jacksonville and elsewhere.

In Richmond, Va., the WB couldn’t find an affiliate — and compromised by signing a deal with the NBC station there to air just one Frog show, “Smallville.”

Those piecemeal agreements are still better than the alternative: A complete absence from the market, or carriage on a small low-power station that reaches few viewers.The WB, of course, gave up entirely with trying to find affiliates in smaller markets, launching its cable-only WB 100+ station group instead.

Nets may also wind up affiliating with companies not generally in the network affiliation business. Fox and UPN are on several Mexican-owned stations in border cities like El Paso, while a religious company owns the WB’s Cleveland station.

Then there’s Honolulu, where UPN lost its original affiliation to the WB in the late 1990s. The unusual arrangement came about through a UPN distribution exec, who happened to be friendly with the station’s management.

KIKU — which also airs Vietnamese, Filipino and some other English programs, offered UPN something no other station could offer: A daily two-hour block to air the net’s entire primetime lineup.

Of course, UPN had to settle for an unusual timeslot. The net’s fare airs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., while primetime is still reserved for skeins like “Soko ga Shiritai” and “Nijumaru Kenko TV.”

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