An Interesting Follow Up to CW Network in Cleveland

The Beacon Journal’s R.D. Heldenfels weighs in on local WB affiliate WBNX/55 snagging The CW affiliation for the Cleveland market.

As expected, WBNX chief Lou Spangler is thrilled. He cites three key factors in his station being able to get CW instead of Raycom’s WUAB/43… strong ratings, lack of program preemption and an ongoing relationship with his network.

While Raycom certainly has a history with CBS and UPN, Spangler’s got a point. If you’re looking for a strong engine that will basically throw everything into your network, WBNX is your place. We’ve already talked about Channel 55’s marketing savvy, and the fact that the station is the highest rated WB affiliate in the top 19 U.S. TV markets. And WBNX is already clearing WB network programming in all the slots that’ll be used by The CW, which will adopt The WB’s programming model.

Is the money still an issue? Spangler tells the Beacon that the station did indeed pony up money for the right to become “Cleveland’s CW”…but also notes that WBNX had an existing compensation deal with The WB, calling the new terms “a fair deal”.

There’s one anonymous comment on our earlier item, claiming that WUAB had already been telling advertisers that it would be the CW affiliate in Cleveland when the dust settled. If that is true, that would belie the notion that WUAB wasn’t interested in paying for the network.

But…money could still have been quite an issue…and Raycom/WUAB may not have been willing to match what WBNX offered to the CBS/Time Warner combo running the new “fifth network”. Our gut tells us that WBNX probably didn’t offer CW “the farm”, as it were, but probably more than WUAB was willing to throw in. That, and the other factors, would appear to seal the deal from our perspective.

And this Media Daily News article by Wayne Friedman may say it all. Friedman says that the CW folks “avoided TV station group deals that, in theory, could give TV station groups a price break”. He says that CW is looking to get a fixed compensation deal from its new affiliates, something that was apparently only set for top-15 market WB affiliates. WB stations below the top-15, according to Friedman, paid based on yearly performance. Friedman notes that with a fixed amount, stations could be left paying a high fee even if the station’s performance suffers.

With CW apparently looking to go station-by-station instead of dealing with groups, that threw out the chance of a Raycom group-wide deal, and put WUAB and WBNX on equal footing… allowing WBNX to pull out all the stops.

You can also look at public statements by both WBNX’s Spangler (in today’s Beacon) and WUAB’s Bill Applegate. Spangler didn’t seem to have a problem at ALL with the money…he was already paying WB, and apparently got livable terms out of CW. Applegate, meanwhile, was concerned about reverse compensation back in late January, when he “wondered aloud” to the Beacon’s Heldenfels if CW would be asking for it. (That answer came not long after.)

Applegate also thought WUAB could clear Saturday programming blocks that The CW had planned, but brought up another financial roadblock…the loss of income from an infomercial block WUAB airs on Saturday afternoons.

WUAB may have believed internally that it could work out the money issues and still become the CW affiliate, but WBNX’s pitch was apparently quite aggressive, and we don’t doubt they could have upped the ante…causing WUAB to look at their options again and decide they could still do better without “The CW”. And Raycom’s portfolio still includes one of the “big four” networks with WOIO/19’s CBS affiliation, where WBNX is solo.

In the end, WBNX wanted it more. We don’t think they just “outbid” Raycom/WUAB, as the other factors in WBNX’s favor are very clear, but we feel WBNX had the winning hand that WUAB wasn’t willing to try to outdo.

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