Fox’s Touchdown Play By The Bay; Are St. Louis and Seattle Next?

ktvu

Fox has called an audible at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. It looks like they caught the defense napping and are about to convert on an 80 yard touchdown bomb.

In a power-play type move from Fox, they have announced a deal to purchase television stations KTVU-TV Channel 2 and KICU-TV Channel 36 from Cox Media Group in exchange for WFXT-TV Channel 25 in Boston and WHBQ-TV Channel 13 in Memphis.

KTVU is already a Fox affiliate, and is well-known by sports fans in the Bay Area as once being the longtime local home (in addition to the old SportsChannel Bay Area) of San Francisco Giants baseball.

Brass at KTVU are already saying that the acquisition by Fox will have no impact on its delivery of news—ignoring, of course, a redesigning of the logo to match the other Fox O&Os, a redesigning of the KTVU studios, and the changing of the graphics to, once again, match those of the other Fox O&Os.

In addition to being a Fox station, KTVU blows the other local television stations in the San Francisco Bay Area away in terms of ratings. KGO-TV (an ABC O&O), KNTV-TV (an NBC O&O) and KPIX-TV (a CBS O&O) play second fiddle to the KTVU calls by the Bay.

That’s one big reason why this is such a big deal. It definitely opens up Cox to new markets in Boston and Memphis—two markets where they have never been before and now may have the opportunity to expand in terms of both TV and radio.

The big deal, of course, is on the Fox side with KTVU. This deal will mean that five of the six English-network affiliated stations in the Bay Area will be owned & operateds. The outlier will be KRON-TV Channel 4, a MyNetwork TV affiliate and one whom according to Rich Lieberman’s 415 Media Blog, Fox initially had its eye on before pursuing KTVU.

It’s also huge news for a television network that recently went through an embarrassing journalistic escapade with its coverage of the Asiana Airlines story and the fake names associated with it. Instead, it’s deals like this that make media observers like yours truly say, “Ho Lee Fuk”.

That’s said to be one reason for why Cox wanted to offload KTVU in addition to some moving and shuffling amongst many of the news staff. But, when it comes down to it, this deal can be summed in with three things.

N.

F.

L.

The power that the NFL has in local television arrangements cannot be ignored. In the mid-1990s when television stations across the country were changing affiliations to Fox (primarily because of its wresting of NFC football from CBS), it caused the other “Big Three” networks scrambling for new stations to carry its programs. Fox was doomed to be a failure as a broadcast network without the NFL.

Oh, and that yellow family from Springfield better known as The Simpsons.

CBS had to air AFC football in response. Fox’s strategy has been to establish owned & operated stations in every single market with an NFC team so they could rake in both the local and national dough that those NFL deals offer. And as we know, there’s no money like football money.

Here’s the list of O&Os Fox currently has in NFC cities:

WNYW-TV Fox 5 New York (Giants)

WTXF-TV Fox 29 Philadelphia (Eagles)

WTTG-TV Fox 5 Washington, D.C. (Redskins)

KDFW-TV Fox 4 Dallas (Cowboys)

WFLD-TV Fox 32 Chicago (Bears)

KMSP-TV Fox 9 Twin Cities (Vikings)

WJBK-TV Fox 2 Detroit (Lions)

WAGA-TV Fox 5 Atlanta (Falcons)

WJZY-TV Fox 46 Charlotte (Panthers) (Deal done last year)

WTVT-TV Fox 13 Tampa/St. Petersburg (Buccaneers)

KSAZ-TV Fox 10 Phoenix (Cardinals)

Stations jumped to Fox after the NFC rights buy. Fox moved in and assumed not only their affiliation, but also locking them up as owned & operateds later on.

Fox is doing this deal because it allows them to have an O&O in another NFC market: the Bay Area with—the San Francisco 49ers who right now are probably the best team in the NFC not named the Seattle Seahawks. Also, having an O&O in market #4 is not something you want to pass up if you are a smart girl or guy in charge of a network.

Fox may not be done either. Variety reported last year that Fox was planning on making buys in Seattle and St. Louis in addition to the San Francisco purchase. The St. Louis Fox affiliate is KTVI-TV, a Tribune station. Tribune, based in Chicago, primarily runs CW affiliates, including the three flagship CW stations in New York City (WPIX-TV 11), Los Angeles (KTLA-TV 5), and Chicago (WGN-TV 9).

The Seattle situation is actually rather intriguing. The station that Fox is said to have its collective eyes on is not KCPQ-TV Q13 Fox, another Fox Tribune station. It’s KIRO-TV Channel 7, another Cox station, but is affiliated with CBS.

I’ve had numerous conversations with SeaTac Media’s Jason Remington about this issue and we both have thrown around ideas. I suggested that if Fox buys KIRO and changes it into a Fox O&O, then it turns the entire Seattle market upside down.

Seattle has already seen a change in its media landscape with Sinclair acquiring locally-based Fisher Communications, owners of stations such as KOMO-TV 4 (ABC), KUNS-TV 51 (Univision), and KATU-TV 2 (ABC) in Portland, Oregon. In addition, the purchase of Belo Broadcasting by Gannett has put the market’s NBC affiliate, KING-TV (and independent station KONG-TV) (get the King Kong reference?) under new management as well.

The idea I suggested to Remington was that Fox will make the buys in St. Louis and Seattle because those are two cities with NFC teams. Fox wants O&Os in both. If KIRO changes, then it raises the possibility that KCPQ and KSTW-TV CW 11 also change network affiliation. KCPQ, being a Tribune station could jump to the CW, and KSTW could become CBS considering that it’s already a CBS-owned station.

That market could see a “Big Switch” similar to what Denver, Phoenix, and Philadelphia all notably experienced in the mid-1990s during the days of the mass realignment of the local affiliations with the networks.

One cannot ignore said ramifications of a deal if it goes through in all three cities. Assuming Fox gets its coveted O&Os in San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Louis, Fox will have O&Os in every NFC market outside of New Orleans (Saints) and Green Bay/Milwaukee (Packers).

New Orleans’ Fox affiliate, WVUE-TV Channel 8 is owned by Tom Benson’s (Saints owner) Louisiana Media Company in conjunction with Raycom. Green Bay’s Fox station, WLUK-TV Channel 11, is owned by LIN Media while Milwaukee’s at WITI-TV Channel 6 is a Tribune station.

It’s even possible that Cox may have considered exchanging either their San Francisco station or their Seattle station in exchange for the Boston and Memphis stations. But Fox wasn’t getting both on one shot. So, if that’s what Cox was offering, then it was a slam dunk for Fox. A heritage station plus an indie in the largest NFC (and NFL, for that matter) market west of the Mississippi.

And, this could only be the beginning. If the trajectory as to where Fox is going with these deals is any indication, it may not be long before Fox says hello on an O&O basis to the Space Needle & the Gateway Arch as they have just done so to the Golden Gate Bridge on the city by the Bay.

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