In the Loop

Consolidation Is Diversity

Like most broadcasters, Perry Sook is confident the FCC will relax its duopoly rules this spring to permit common ownership of two TV stations in markets below the top 30. But concerned that the loosening of the rules will not extend to the really small markets in which he operates, Sook will be in Washington early this week to personally lobby the commissioners. Sook argues that duopolies are the best way to ensure second and third newscasts in small markets. "Most third-rated newscasts in markets outside the top 50 markets are break-even at best," he says. For instance, he says, in Rochester, N.Y. (above), his CBS affiliate is posting big losses.—H.A.J.

NBC Shuffles L.A. Operations

Although the FCC won't make a decision on broadcast-ownership caps and duopolies until June 2, NBC already is consolidating its triopoly in Los Angeles. The station group is moving Telemundo's KVEA(TV) to NBC Studios in Burbank, where flagship station KNBC-TV is located. NBC's other Hispanic station, KWHY-TV, also will move operations, but sales and programming will remain in Glendale in a bow to an FCC ruling forbidding NBC to house KVEA's and KWHY-TV's sales operations in the same building. Besides KWHY-TV's sales and programming, NBC is moving Bravo sales, Paxson sales and the NBC national sales organization to Glendale. The waiver that allows NBC to own a triopoly (the rule normally permits ownership of just two stations per market) has expired. NBC has asked for an extension and hopes the FCC will relax its ownership rule to permit large-market triopolies later this spring. If the FCC denies NBC relief, it intends to sell KWHY-TV. "We are hopeful that KWHY-TV will remain a part of the NBC/Telemundo family," said NBC spokeswoman Hilary Smith. "As such, it is our goal to operate these stations as efficiently as possible. These moves will help us do that."—P.A.

eBay Moves to 2004

Sony Pictures Television has confirmed what most syndication watchers had already figured out. The launch of its high-profile eBayTV strip will slip a year to fall 2004. Stations that have signed up for the auction/ reality show will need to fill the slot with other programming next fall, but they now have more time to set up related Web sites. Molly Pesce is still set to host the show. The format is still in flux, though, and it could end up as a half-hour strip rather than the planned hour. In any event, stations will still be able to share in auction revenue generated by the show as viewers will be invited to auction off unwanted goods.

Sony won't give a clearance percentage but confirms that the lineup now includes stations from Viacom, Gannett, Belo, Raycom, Clear Channel, Pegasus, Media General, Cox, Capitol, White Knight, Emmis, Evening Post, Quorum, Grant and Gocom. Sources unrelated to Sony also confirm that CBS and NBC owned-and-operated stations have expressed interest in the show.—P.A.

More HD Sports?

Carriage of ESPN-HD is still spotty around the nation's cable systems, but it appears that it's enough to have Fox Sports Net considering HD services in selected markets. The potential move is said to be prompted by a fear that ESPN-HD would give ESPN a leg up in dealing with some national advertisers. Executives from Fox Sports Network were making inquiries into HD gear at the NAB convention two weeks ago, and the foray into HD wouldn't be without precedent. HDNet has supplied hardware and crews for HD productions of regional Fox Sports Network events.—K.K.

Playing the Upfronts

Here's some advice from Morgan Stanley's Richard Bilotti on how stock investors can make money in the upfronts: In the months prior to the upfront selling, Billotti says, broadcast nets churn out positive news to drive ad pricing and their stock prices. But, he says, actual revenue is typically 3%-4% below levels indicated by the upfront headlines. "Accordingly, we believe that the more positive the headlines, the more negative the downside risk when actual revenues are reported. This presents an opportunity to buy broadcasting ... in front of the positive upfront ... news and sell into the jubilation when the upfront tallies are announced."—J.M.H.