Fox weilding its duopoly power

Aug 12, 2002  •  Post A Comment

When two stations in a market become a duopoly, is the little station doomed to get the short end of the deal?
That’s the question cynics might ask in Minneapolis, where the current UPN affiliate KMSP-TV is swapping affiliations and channels with its sister Fox station WFTC-TV on Sept. 8. Both stations are now owned by Fox Television Stations.
The Fox station gets the better channel position (Channel 9 instead of Channel 29) and the higher-rated late newscast, which currently runs on KMSP.
But Carol Rueppel, the general manager of the duopoly, said the changes are all about flow and identity, not about giving the Fox-owned Fox station the advantage.
Fox owns both stations, so Fox has an interest in making sure both stations thrive, said Ms. Rueppel, who arrived last November from Fox-owned
WITI-TV in Milwaukee.
Referring to both stations’ cable and over-the-air penetration of the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota area, she said, “There are not huge differences in who they are going to reach.”
On Sept. 8, the Fox prime-time, sports and kids programming that had been on WFTC (Channel 29) will move to KMSP (Channel 9) and the UPN programming that has been on KMSP will move to WFTC.
The local newscasts are staying put, essentially. That means that as of Sept. 8, the Fox-owned Fox station will kick off the day with a 31/2-hour local newscast (a signature of Fox-owned stations) and air the newscast that has ranked No. 1 at 9 p.m. for 14 years. What will become the Fox-owned UPN station will move its 15-month-old late local news, which has ranked second at 9 o’clock, to 10 p.m., where it will be trimmed to a half-hour and be forced to compete with local news on CBS-owned WCCO-TV, Gannett-owned NBC affiliate KARE-TV and Hubbard-owned ABC affiliate KSTP-TV.
The newscasts will continue to be found on the channel where viewers are used to seeing them, Ms. Rueppel said, “We’re just simply changing the lead-in.”
Because Fox prime-time programming skews older than UPN’s it “makes perfect sense, I think, to leave [KMSP’s news] where it is.”
Rather than have both stations in the duopoly competing at 9 o’clock with news, UPN’s prime-time lineup on WFTC will be followed by “Seinfeld” at 9 p.m. (the sitcom will continue to air at 6:30 p.m. on WFTC) and “Everybody Loves Raymond” at 9:30 p.m., gathering a slightly older audience to feed into the local news at 10 p.m. WFTC also is adding newscasts at 10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Both stations’ news-gathering operations have been combined in the KMSP building since July 29. Eventually, the KMSP building, which has been remodeled to create a “digitally based infrastructure,” will house both stations.
In the meantime, Ms. Rueppel’s duopoly is preparing viewers for the switch with everything from on-air reminders and “billboards all over town,” to spots on radio and cable and plans for phone banks and finally, a big marketing push at the Minnesota State Fair which will be attended by a million people from Aug. 22 through Labor Day.
Ms. Rueppel believes this is the first affiliation switch in which one management controls both stations.
“Here, we get to control the message on both sides so that both sides will benefit,” she said.