The FCC permits a single operator to own two television stations in a single market provided that one of them is not among the top four stations in that market, slots which presumably are occupied by affiliates of ABC, CBS, NBC and/or Fox. The duopoly shopper, should they own one of the above, would therefore be effectively limited to independents and affiliates of UPN or the WB. Sinclair Broadcast Group has an Oklahoma City duopoly consisting of KOKH (Fox) and KOCB (WB).

If the FCC approves, and there's no compelling reason why they wouldn't, we'll have another one: the New York Times Company, which owns KFOR (NBC), has agreed to acquire KAUT (UPN) from Viacom. Price was not disclosed, and as of this writing the FCC hasn't seen, or at least hasn't posted, the application for assignment of the KAUT license.

KAUT was the only network O&O (owned-and-operated) station in the Oklahoma City market, a situation born out of desperation. Sinclair (remember them?) owned KOCB and was operating it as a UPN affiliate. In early 1998, the WB made Sinclair an offer they couldn't refuse: the network would pay the group $80 million to switch five of their UPN stations, including KOCB, to the WB.

This left the market with no UPN affiliate. Paramount Television Group scrambled for a replacement. KSBI (channel 52) turned them down; KMNZ (channel 62), just acquired by Bud Paxson, wasn't available; there were no other channels available at the time. (Channels 30 in Shawnee and 46 in Norman had not yet been allocated.)

Finally, Paramount struck a deal with, of all people, the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority. OETA had inherited channel 43, previously KAUT (after founder Gene Autry, whose Golden West Television put the station on the air in the late 1970s), in 1992, as the result of a complicated deal in which the owner of 43 — this was pre-Sinclair — would donate it to the state in exchange for being allowed to move (with his Fox affiliation intact) to the presumably-better channel 25. Apart from changing the call letters to KTLC and making some PBS shows available in different time slots, OETA didn't do much with 43, and I suspect they were happy to be rid of it, especially when Paramount's check ($22 million, I seem to recall) cleared. Interestingly, for the first 90 days of Paramount's ownership of the station, for which they adopted the call letters KPSG, they continued to carry, from 9 am to noon, the same PBS programs that had run under OETA's ownership. And after six months, Paramount went back to the original KAUT calls.

NBC stations, including KFOR, have had a working relationship with i (formerly Pax) stations, including Oklahoma City's KOPX, for whom KFOR sells ad space; however, i owner Paxson's business plan is to disengage from joint sales agreements with NBC stations, which will simplify the task of moving KAUT into KFOR's Britton Road facility and booting the Paxniks out the door. (Oddly enough, i is repositioning itself as an outlet for independent producers, which is actually closer to what Bud Paxson had in mind originally for his station group.)

And anyway, it's not like UPN isn't used to strange bedfellows. The United Paramount Network was called that because it was a joint venture of United Television Stations and Paramount Pictures; in 2000, Paramount parent Viacom bought out United's share of the network, and United, a subsidiary of boat manufacturer Chris-Craft, was subsequently acquired by News Corporation, i.e. Fox. Fox still owns the UPN affiliates in the top three markets: New York (WWOR), Los Angeles (KCOP), and Chicago (WPWR). Actually, WWOR is not technically in New York, but in Secaucus, New Jersey; but that's a tale for another time.

The Vent

15 September 2005

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 Copyright © 2005 by Charles G. Hill