For a little over a year now, two startup television networks -- the WB
Network, owned by Warner Bros., and the United/Paramount Network, a joint
venture of Paramount Television and Chris-Craft Industries -- have been
acquiring programming and signing affiliates in preparation for their
respective debuts, both coming in January. Right now, United/Paramount has
the edge over WB. While WB will launch with one night of programming, UP
will sign on with two nights of shows. Also, while WB is slated to reach 73%
of the U.S., the majority of that coverage is coming from cable, and then
primarily through WB's Chicago affiliate, superstation WGN-TV. On the other
hand, United/Paramount is already in position to reach 64% of the country on
72 broadcst stations -- 51 primary affiliates and 21 secondary affiliates.
Many of you may not realize this, but so far, this race to create America's
fifth television network appears to mirror quite closely the race back in the
late forties and early fifties to build America's third web -- a race between
the DuMont Network, owned by electronics maker DuMont Laboratories, and a TV
network owned by an upstart radio network called the American Broadcasting
Company, also known as ABC.
Warner Bros. unveiled the WB Network venture in late August of 1993, while
Paramount and Chris-Craft would not put together their network plan until
that October. Similarly, DuMont had its TV network on the air in 1939, while
the ABC Television Network would not sign on until after World War II.
In the late forties and early fifties, the U.S. had more than enough
television stations for both the first network, NBC, and the second network,
CBS, but barely enough stations for a third network and definitely not enough
for a fourth. ABC was able to capture most of the markets with only three
commercial TV stations, and in most of the markets with four commercial
stations, DuMont was relegated to UHF stations, and back then, UHF television
was not as practical or reliable as it is today. Likewise, in most of the
markets with only one pure independent here in the nineties, that indie has
affiliated with United/Paramount, and UP has also been able to sign the
strongest independent in most of those markets with more than one indie.
In the end, the advantage which United/Paramount enjoys over WB, and also the
advantage which ABC had over DuMont, is greater broadcasting ties. ABC,
unlike DuMont, had a radio network, not to mention five owned-and-operated
radio stations, and ABC was able to use its radio ties as a selling point to
prospective affiliates rather effectively. Fast forward to 1994, and we see
that the partners in the United/Paramount Network -- Paramount, its new
parent Viacom, and Chris-Craft -- together own 19 television stations and 12
radio stations, whereas Time Warner has no broadcast interests whatsoever.
The revenue generated from its parent companies' broadcast holdings allows
United/Paramount to make its network available to stations at no charge,
while WB is having to compensate for Time Warner's lack of broadcast stations
by charging affiliates 25% of their annual incremental profits. Indeed, as
the both ABC-DuMont battle proved and the UP-WB battle is proving,
broadcasting ties are the ties that bind a television network's fate.
Rick Douglas :)