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Fox Gains 2 Affil Upgrades

Dec 14, 2008  •  Post A Comment

Fox Broadcasting continues to solidify its distribution base with two affiliation upgrades that will take place in January.
On Jan. 1, the Fox lineup will switch from National Communications’ low-power KUIL-LP to full-power KBTV in Beaumont, Texas, the 186th-largest media market. That move is a win-win for Fox, whose footprint in the market will expand significantly by being on a full-power station that produces 3½ hours per weekday, a trait that Fox values in its affiliates.
However, the win-win-win change will take place Jan. 5 in Meridian, Miss., when the Fox lineup will be added to a digital channel by NBC-affiliated WGBC-TV.
Since the Fox signal will remain in its customary positions on cable and satellite distributors in the market, the 135th largest, there will be no disruption or confusion for viewers, who had been watching it as a digital secondary affiliate on Gray Television’s ABC-affiliated WTOK-TV. Over-the-air viewers who previously received Fox in standard-definition format will be able to get Fox in full HD simply by switching to Channel 30.1 on an HDTV set.
Mike Reed bought WGBC last January and, under a program services agreement with CBS affiliate WMDN-TV, already sold its advertising inventory, which includes the digital local AccuWeather channel. With the addition of the Fox lineup, the prime-time inventory his station sells rises to about 350 units per week, slightly more than triple the units at WTOK, he said.
In a period that is economically challenging for even the strongest TV groups, “Having Fox now is sort of an insurance policy headed into a very tough year,” Mr. Reed said. “We fully expect we should grow our revenue here by a third next year.”
Then there’s his near-lock on major sports TV franchises and events carried by NBC, which, of course, has the Olympics, and by CBS and Fox.
“We have the Super Bowl every year. We have Major League Baseball, NASCAR, NFL, AFC, NFC, March Madness, Final Four, the Masters, most of the bowl games. There’s very little that ABC has in sports anymore. That franchise here is going to be huge for us,” said Mr. Reed, a first-time TV station owner for whom this addition marks a return to the Fox affiliate fold.
Under his leadership, the Augusta, Ga., affiliate was Fox’s best non-owned performer in the country and the Lafayette, La., station went from 99th to seventh best in the Fox affiliate body in a year.
“We always want to be improving ourselves,” said Jon Hookstratten, executive VP, Fox network distribution. “We’re always looking to be the primary affiliate.”
While Mr. Hookstratten, who oversaw a much larger affiliation switch in San Diego this year, concedes these moves in two small markets won’t make a “huge change” in Fox’s national performance, he said, “The idea is that you try to do these in a lot of places” and it adds up.
In Meridian, he will be running Retro Television Network’s lineup of shows, ranging from “21 Jump Street” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” to “The A-Team” and “Black Sheep Squadron,” on his new affiliate whenever Fox is not programming entertainment or sports.
In response to the question of whether the demographics of RTN and Fox will prove compatible, Mr. Reed said, “I guess the argument could be made that possibly the old Retro Television ’60s, ’70s kind of shows would be a little older demographic, but I think it still falls in that 25-to-54 age group. And I think Fox has programs that fit that. I think they have programs that fit that 18- to 49-year-old. I know that Fox overall is looked at as a little younger network, but in Meridian, Miss., the pair-up is perfect.”
Meanwhile, a source familiar with the situation said McKinnon Broadcasting in Beaumont will launch a fully branded, fully programmed NBC affiliate on a digital subchannel to be known as KBMT-DT.

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