If networks went shopping

BIA study theorizes what Big Four would buy if there were no more caps

If networks could own as many TV stations as they wished, things might not look so different. At least, not according to BIA Financial Network.

If they could, though, nets would likely try to acquire station groups that own a large percentage of their affiliates, individual stations in major markets, or clusters in regions where they don't own stations, writes BIA Vice President Mark Fratrik.

NBC and ABC—which own stations covering 24% and 31% of the country, respectively—are in the best position to purchase station groups. CBS and Fox each own stations covering nearly 40%, according to the FCC. The cap is at 35% but is expected to change, and Fox and CBS have limited approval to be over the line now.

Gannett Broadcasting's 22 TV stations would be a good fit for NBC, Fratrik says. Its 13 NBC affiliates account for 68% of its revenue. Sunbelt Broadcasting, though small, might be a target, with eight of its 12 stations operating as NBC affiliates in DMA markets 51 and higher.

Although ABC is well below the cap, few station groups are natural buys. Top candidates would be Scripps Howard, with six of its 10 stations ABC affiliates; and Allbritton and McGraw-Hill, with four ABC affiliates and no other stations. Hearst-Argyle owns the most affiliates—half its 34 stations—but they account for only half its revenue, meaning ABC would have to buy a lot of stations it doesn't necessarily want.

CBS and Fox probably aren't interested in buying many more stations. Fox owns stations in all the top 10 markets except San Francisco, where KTVU(TV) is owned by Cox Broadcasting. Sinclair Broadcasting and Tribune Broadcasting own the most Fox affiliates, but many more of their stations are affiliated with other networks.

CBS doesn't fit well with any group either, Fratnik says. It may be interested in individual stations because it lacks O&Os in markets 6 to 10 and 12 to 16. Possibilities include Gannett's WUSA(TV) Washington; Meredith Corp.'s WGCL-TV Atlanta; Belo Corp.'s KHOU-TV Houston; and Cox's KIRO-TV Seattle.