When the WB and UPN are folded in favor of a new CW network next fall, Tribune Broadcasting will convert 16 of its WB stations to the new network, but have to program three outlets as independents in markets where Tribune and CBS both own stations.
The possibility of losing network affiliation will have Tribune's independents and others rushing to buy programming. That could make this year's NATPE, underway in Las Vegas, particularly active. "This is generating a lot of buzz out there," says Tribune Co. Chairman Dennis FitzSimons. "Time periods have opened up on a lot of stations
The network merger, announced Tuesday morning, untangles Tribune from its ownership stake in the WB network. Tribune owns a 22% stake in The WB but will not have any equity stake in the new network. But Tribune also will not be responsible for any of the shutdown costs at The WB and gets affiliations for CW in plum markets such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
Tribune Co. Chairman Dennis FitzSimons says combining the UPN and WB lineups will strengthen his outlets. "People are not watching networks, they are watching programs," he told analysts on a conference call Tuesday. "The better the programs are, the better our stations will be."
FitzSimons says CBS' stake in the network – 12 of its UPN outlets will change to CW – gives him confidence in the future success. "We are enthused about what will happen short term with the best of both networks, and long term, one of the partners will have station interests of their own," FitzSimons said.
But Tribune will now have to program three of its WB stations--Philadelphia, Seattle and Atlanta--as independents. FitzSimons said that will result in higher prime time programming costs but that the stations will now have more inventory to sell to advertisers.
One unknown, FitzSimons said, is what Fox Television will do with its UPN stations.
Fox will be left without a UPN network affiliation in major markets like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
FitzSimons said Fox could start up another programming service, and expressed interest for his independents in such a network.