TV group in critical condition

Aug 13, 2001  •  Post A Comment

News Corp. is considering pulling its newly acquired Chris-Craft Industries stations out of the Association of Local Television Stations, sources said.
That would be a big financial hit for the organization. The 10 Chris-Craft stations have long been one of ALTV’s strongest financial supporters, providing an estimated 10 percent of the organization’s $2.2 million annual operating budget.
News Corp. pulled its Fox Broadcasting Co. stations out of ALTV a decade ago and has represented their interests ever since through its own permanent stable of in-house Washington lobbyists.
At deadline, a News Corp. spokeswoman said no decision had been made on Chris-Craft’s ALTV membership.
And Jim Hedlund, ALTV president, said he has been urging the company to stay on board.
“We’re trying to convince them that there is a great deal of value in ALTV, especially considering the fact that they are not a member of any other industrywide trade association,” Mr. Hedlund said.
A Chris-Craft bailout would sting particularly badly now because Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns, operates or programs 62 TV stations in 40 states, quietly withdrew from the organization earlier this year citing financial considerations. In addition, Univision Communications dropped the memberships of the 13 USA Broadcasting stations after the Spanish-language network acquired that group.
A rumor making the rounds last week had it that Viacom, in the wake of its acquisition of CBS, will also pull the plug on the ALTV memberships of the 19 former Paramount Group Stations, an eventuality that industry observers said could sap ALTV of the critical mass it needs to survive.
“If you’re Mel Karmazin [Viacom president and chief operating officer], why would you keep some of your stations in ALTV?” one source said.
But ALTV’s Mr. Hedlund said Ray Rajewski, the executive vice president of the Viacom Television Stations Group, who is also serving as ALTV’s chairman, has assured him that Viacom is a strong ALTV supporter and has no intention of leaving.
Added a Viacom station group source, “The company has no plans to depart the group at this time.”
Mr. Hedlund said it would be ironic if News Corp. pulls the Chris-Craft stations out now, because ALTV lobbied long and hard for the changes in the Federal Communications Commission’s duopoly rules that made News Corp.’s acquisition of Chris-Craft practical.
He also said that when the Fox stations first bailed out of the organization 10 years ago, there was a flurry of news stories predicting ALTV’s doom. “To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of our demise were greatly exaggerated,” Mr. Hedlund said. “We’re still in the black.”
If the Chris-Craft and Paramount stations quit, Tribune Co. and Paxson Communications would be ALTV’s only major remaining members.
“If Chris-Craft leaves and Paramount leaves, there’s no reason to have an association,” said an industry source.
ALTV, which has a staff of six, was founded in 1972 as the Association of Independent Television Stations to represent the interests of stations unaffiliated with a network.
With the creation of Fox, UPN and The WB, the group changed its name to accommodate the interests of stations affiliated with emerging networks.
Mr. Hedlund said many of ALTV’s members operate on UHF channels and as a result have a stronger interest in such issues as carriage on cable TV systems than do the Big 3 network affiliates operating on the more powerful VHF channels.