The Race To The CW Begins

Broadcasting & Cable magazine reports that some 200 local TV stations have received first contact from “The CW Network”, the newly-created network that’ll be formed from the remains of UPN and The WB this fall. The letters mainly went to current WB and UPN affiliates, along with some pure independent stations.

B&C reports that CW officials expect to move quickly to sign up affiliates in markets that are not already set as far as the new 5th network goes. A deal between The CW and Tribune Broadcasting, and the ownership stake by CBS Corporation (along with Time Warner), means that many markets already know which station will carry CW programming in September…in the largest markets, either Tribune-owned stations or CBS/UPN-owned stations will have the honors.

In other large markets, like Cleveland, everything’s up in the air. The two local general managers involved – WUAB/43’s Bill Applegate and WBNX/55’s Lou Spangler – will receive a video kit from “The CW” in the next week or so, presumably touting the new network’s prospects.

But eventually, they’ll receive some news that won’t be so welcome. B&C and other industry sources say that the CW Network folks are going to ask for reverse compensation from would-be and future affiliates. Back in the day, networks paid stations to carry their programming…but in a growing trend, they’ve started asking local affiliates to pay for the rights to carry the network. (Such a move prompted the change of San Francisco’s NBC affiliation from Chronicle’s KRON, to Granite’s KNTV…a station NBC eventually bought outright.) CW and CBS honcho Les Moonves has made it clear that he sees this as the future.

How does that affect Cleveland?

It probably depends on what kind of a deal group owner Raycom Media – parent of WUAB and sister CBS affiliate WOIO/19 – makes with the CW folks. As owner of potentially 6 CW affiliates, along with a number of CBS stations, Raycom could make a deal with CW, which is owned 50/50 by CBS and Time Warner.

If Raycom’s not willing to play Reverse Compensation Ball, all bets are off, and the hungrier, scrappier WBNX could pull off an upset.

At the end of the day, though, we still believe WUAB/Raycom holds the cards…”The CW” is theirs to either lose, or refuse.

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