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Greenfield: Affiliates Are 'Helpless'

So what's next, now that Fox Television Stations has served up the divorce papers for Tribune regarding KCPQ Seattle?

It's no secret that FTS wants to own stations in NFC markets, as Fox has paid big for the rights to that NFL action. Are St. Louis and Milwaukee—where the Rams and the Packers, respectively, get huge ratings, and Tribune owns the Fox stations—next up for FTS and its acquisitive ways?

Tribune took pains to say its 13 Fox affiliates, not including KCPQ, will remain Fox affiliates for the time being, and perhaps beyond that. Tribune said it was “confident that our remaining 13 Fox affiliates will remain unaffected based on regulatory and contractual constraints.”

After that, who knows? "You never know in this crazy business," one broadcast vet with skin in the game told me.

What's to stop FTS from expanding its reach?

Well, the ownership cap, for one thing. It's currently at 37.35% of U.S. households.

Both KTVI St. Louis and WITI Milwaukee were part of Local TV, and before that, were actually owned by Fox, which sold eight stations to Oak Hill Capital for $1.1 billion six years ago.

That was, increasingly, a different era in television.

Notes Rich Greenfield, analyst at BTIG:

Local TV had an agreement with FOX that prevents the payment of reverse retrans and station affiliation changes until 2018. In turn, nothing is imminent. Still, the handwriting is clearly on the wall.

Greenfield says all the power is with the network, and virtually none with the affiliates. The Seattle case study this week, he adds, reinforces the point:

  • This is yet another reminder of how all the power in broadcast TV resides with the network and how the networks are increasingly taking the economics of broadcast TV back from the affiliates.
  • The affiliates are helpless, left to settle for whatever economics their broadcast parents are willing to allow them to have (for now).