BREAKING NEWS: WBNX/55 To Be Cleveland CW Network Affiliate

This just in from various trade publications:

Winston Broadcasting’s WBNX/55 Akron, the Cleveland market’s current WB Network affiliate, is one of five stations signing a long-term affiliation agreement with the new “CW Network”.

The list of The CW’s first affiliates outside of the CBS owned-and-operated UPN stations and the Tribune WB stations also includes stations in Orlando, Charlotte, Louisville KY and South Bend IN.

And it appears there’s a pattern here…many of the stations, like WBNX, are aggressive independently-owned or small group-owned stations. Indeed, the list of owners almost makes one go “huh, who’s that?”. The only big name in the list is Emmis Communications, which owns the WB affiliate in Orlando (WKCF), and is usually better known for its radio group.

So, what happened with Raycom Media, a long-time CBS/UPN affiliate group that was first expected to nab The CW for current UPN affiliate WUAB/43? Our guess: reverse compensation.

Raycom is indeed one of the more notoriously cheap operators. If you don’t believe us, look at the picture quality of the company’s local CBS and UPN affiliates. While Raycom was widely expected to swing a group deal with The CW when the network was first announced, the new network’s insistence on a monetary part of the deal seems to have thrown a monkey wrench into conservative wisdom (or, “CW”, if you will).

The other part of the equation happened just a few days ago. NewsCorp’s FOX Broadcasting unveiled “My Network TV”, a non-compensation based mini-network offering network branding and no price tag. If Raycom still wants to attach a “network name” and programming to WUAB, they can still sign up with the network some casually call “FOX 2”. And it’s hard to argue with FOX’s success at creating new networks.

Meanwhile, WBNX gets the cream of the WB/UPN crop, with some proven programs (at least at the sub-four network level proven).

Oddly enough, WBNX station manager Annie Keith was quoted in Broadcasting and Cable magazine just three days ago, saying that though her station was indeed pursuing The CW, it was also getting a presentation from FOX/My Network TV, and was also “exploring becoming an independent”. But WBNX has done well with The WB. Channel 55 is one of the highest rated WB affiliates in the country, and the ability to carry over much of that programming had to be attractive for Keith, general manager Lou Spangler and company on State Road.

The only fly in this proverbial ointment is The CW’s insistence that affiliates are able to air their programs in high definition TV. WBNX is one of two full-power Cleveland market stations that has yet to sign on its digital transmitter, both for the same reason…Canadian interference coordination issues. (The other is “i”-network O&O WVPX/23 Akron.)

WBNX’s web page, as reported here earlier, states that the station hopes to get everything going digitally by July 2006, the deadline for major market non-big four stations. With this new network agreement, OMW believes they’ll figure it out somehow…even if that falls to feeding local cable with an HD feed for The CW if the over-air transmitter isn’t approved by September.

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