Local TV

Fox Locals See Midseason as Hopeful Rebound Sign

Network’s split with longtime Charlotte affiliate has stations wary, but it’s part of life with News Corp. 2/11/2013 12:01:00 AM Eastern

The ever-evolving bond between Fox and its affiliates, which had become simpatico after a chaotic
redefining of the relationship
a few years back, is bubbling with a bit
of unrest again. The network’s weak fall
primetime performance, coupled with
a startling divorce with a longtime affiliate, has injected some anxiety back
into the relationship. “There’s definitely
some concern among affiliates,” says
one veteran GM who asked to not be
named. “I don’t think everyone’s happy
with Fox.”

B&C contacted a dozen affiliates
to get their take on Fox these days.
What emerged was disappointment
with last fall, deep concern over affiliation agreements and optimism
for the midseason. “The fall was not
good for Fox and not good for us
either,” says Bill Lamb, WDRB Louisville
president/GM. “But Fox has a whole lot more at stake
than even we do. They’ve got a lot of people working on it.”

A Fox representative said: “We have a tremendous affiliate
body and we are grateful for all their support.”

Fox’s aggressive retrans demands met stiff resistance from
affiliates a few years ago, though many ended up saluting
the network for pushing them to extract higher retrans fees.

Fall is typically not strong for Fox, but 2012’s was off
more than usual. The network’s average total primetime
audience was down 24% from the previous year, while 18-
to-49 viewership slid 25%, prompting Kevin Reilly, Fox
Entertainment chairman, to tell the crowd at TCA last
month: “We all screw up. Look at my fall.”

Also disquieting for affiliates was Fox’s decision to split
with WCCB Charlotte, an affiliate since 1986, following its
Jan. 28 acquisition of a CW-MyNetworkTV
duopoly in DMA No. 25.
Similar moves may follow. “If I’m a Fox
affiliate with an NFC [football team in
the market],” says one Fox station GM,
“I’d be keeping my eyes open.”

WCCB will join the likes of KTRV
Boise (Idaho) and KSFX (now KOZL)
Springfield (Mo.) among those divorced
from Fox in the past 18 months; ABC,
CBS and NBC have not taken that tack
in recent years. Fox GMs soberly note
that the network calls the shots. “It’s always
surprising when it happens, but it’s
part of the affiliation agreement,” says
Mark Metzger, VP/GM at KLSR Eugene
(Ore.). “You just hope it’s not you.”

Amid the concern, there is some
optimism. American Idol is back, and
while some Fox GMs note the show is down 20%-25% over
last year, it continues to win its time slot handily. And rookie
drama The Following is building a following. “There wasn’t
a lot to celebrate in the fall, but I think the second season is
good for all of us,” says Lamb.

Steve Pruett, Fox affiliates board chairman, urges patience.
“You’re No. 1 for eight years, and suddenly, because of one
[ratings] book, you’re a schmuck,” he jokes. “Fox has convinced
the affiliates board, and body, that it is taking the appropriate
action to fill holes and shore up existing shows.”

E-mail comments to mmalone@nbmedia.com
and follow him on Twitter: @BCMikeMalone