Fox feels its way with duopolies

Aug 26, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The fall 2002 season marks the first official “season of the duopoly” as CBS-, NBC- and Fox-owned stations dabble with new approaches to fall programming in an effort to capitalize on inherent benefits of shared resources while avoiding audience cannibalization.
With the Fox stations about to officially add WPWR-TV, Chicago, to their roster, the group will soon boast duopolies in the nation’s top three markets and in nine of the top 20 cities. Last year at this time, the group was granted approval by the Federal Communications Commission to add the former Chris-Craft Industries stations to its territory, and the group quickly experimented with a variety of programming options in an effort to maximize ratings.
Electronic Media talked with Frank Cicha, VP of programming for the Fox station group, about the challenges of programming for duopolies and what to expect in the coming season.
EM: Taking a look at this past season, how do you view Fox’s foray into the duopoly universe?
Mr. Cicha: It certainly added a new dimension to our business. Last year at this time, we closed on the Chris-Craft station deal but had yet to acquire the Paramount stations in Washington and Houston. As far as Chris-Craft, it helped that we acquired competition in markets we were already familiar with-that said, I feel our duopolies strategy is much further along this year, and we’re very excited about the upcoming season. [New York General Manager] Jim Clayton and [Los Angeles General Manager] David Boylan have done a great job using what they have.
EM: What did you learn about audiences while running a duopoly?
Mr. Cicha: We learned how important it is to create two separate identities for our duopolies. Last year we experimented with airing separate runs of series on different stations and we discovered that doing so did not necessarily yield positive results, maybe because of program erosion but perhaps because of viewer confusion as well. In Los Angeles, you saw “Ricki Lake” and “Montel” air at different times on both KTTV and KCOP-TV. This year, we’re more apt to keep multiple runs of the same shows on the same stations.
EM: I take it that will change what we’ll expect from those stations this fall.
Mr. Cicha: We’re going to continue to create individual profiles for stations in the same marketplace. For example, “Seinfeld” stopped airing on KTTV last month and now both runs will be on KCOP going forward. We also expect to beef up the lineup of KCOP with new syndicated product that can bring some demographics to the table. “That ’70s Show” is one that will be counted on to give KCOP and other UPN affiliates a boost. Meanwhile, “Good Day Live” will air on most of the Fox affiliates, which are heavy into news.
EM: Where will we see changes in news?
Mr. Cicha: This year, you’ve seen news shifts around the country from us. In L.A., KCOP shifted from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., and we’ve added more early-fringe news on some traditional affiliates such as Washington and New York. Those are moves in major markets that we hope can make big inroads.
EM: What are your plans for the UPN affiliates further down the road?
Mr. Cicha: You are already starting to see some of those plans with “Ex-treme Dating,” which is being slow rolled to some of those markets. It’s a genre they’ve already had some success in and so far it’s performed fine on those stations. That’s an example of a show that was created more with our UPN affiliates in mind, and I anticipate much more of that soon. Clearly, we’re examining the late-night potential of the stations. We’ll be looking to Bob Cook and his team and externally to fill those very important time periods as well as early fringe and the hour in prime post UPN that generally doesn’t contain news.