Now that the FCC has changed its rules to allow duopolies in all markets as long as the top four stations don't combine, executives from The WB say its affiliates are the best deal in town, and it hopes some better, deeper-pocketed owners link up with them.
WB stations typically are the fifth-rated station in any market. The stations' young demographics are a perfect fit with ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates, whose audiences skew older, says The WB's President and COO Jed Petrick. The thinking is advertisers can buy the older audiences and the younger-skewing ones attracted to The WB, with hits like Everwood
and Charmed, in one buy.
"Even Big Three affiliates that are the most mature television presence in their market are struggling in this competitive environment. Imagine the difficulty for a new-market entrant, like some of The WB stations," he says. "Having a big-network affiliate as a strong partner in that market to help out promotionally, to leverage program acquisitions, to amortize original production costs, and to provide advertising packaging opportunities can do nothing but help quicken the pace of growth for The WB stations."
Running duopolies tends to give station owners operating efficiencies they otherwise lack. A big affiliate can launch a 10 p.m. news program on a WB affiliate without competing with itself at 11 p.m.
One potential buyer in this scenario is Tribune, which is a part owner of The WB and owns 26 stations, 19 of them WB affiliates. Tribune is The WB's largest distribution partner.
"Our strategy is clear: We are an acquirer of TV stations in the top 30 markets," says Pat Mullen, president of Tribune Broadcasting. Mullen would not identify markets where Tribune might be looking, but Granite Broadcasting has said its WB affiliates, KBWB (TV) San Francisco and WDWB (TV) Detroit, are up for sale. Tribune also could look at Big Three affiliates in top-30 markets to pair with its WB stations.
Petrick says Hearst-Argyle's NBC-WB duopoly in Sacramento, Calif., already is a shining example of how such duopolies can work. Over the past five years, KQCA (TV) Sacramento has become the No. 3 WB affiliate in the country, up from No. 22, among persons 12-34. And it is No. 2 out of all WB affiliates among persons 18-34, up from No. 24.
Acme Communications, owned by WB Chairman and CEO Jamie Kellner, also is a good candidate for station sales and trades. Acme President and COO Doug Gealy says the company is a "buyer in the right situations and a trader in others. If the Big Three stations don't step up in some markets, we would." Belo and LIN stations also present duopoly opportunities, Petrick says.