AT&T Pulls Plug on BayTV News Network

BayTV, the financially lackluster local-news partnership between AT&T Broadband and San Francisco's KRON-TV, will go dark on July 31.

"We spent millions trying to make it viable," said Andrew Johnson, vice president of communications for AT&T Broadband in California. But given the channel's low viewership, the best course of action was to cease operations, he said.

The local news and information channel was the child of retransmission-consent negotiations between AT&T's predecessor, Tele-Communications Inc., Liberty Media and then-KRON owner Chronicle Broadcasting. AT&T owns 49 percent of the joint venture with KRON, which is now owned by Young Broadcasting.

Bay TV laid off 17 staffers in February; another 44 will lose their cable-network jobs at the end of the month.

The local-news network reaches 1.4 million homes, offering news prepared by KRON's staff and cable-only fare such as high-school sports games and public-affairs programs.

Even though Bay TV reworked its programming mix several times, it couldn't seem to capture enough viewership, according to Johnson.

Johnson said the decision to cease operations has nothing to do with the fact KRON won't be an NBC affiliate as of Jan. 1, 2002. Next year, KNTV in San Jose will become the Peacock Network's NBC affiliate; AT&T Broadband is in the process of making room for that station.

Granite Broadcasting-owned KNTV won NBC affiliation last year by agreeing to pay the network $362 million over 10 years — a dramatic reversal of network television's typical affiliate-compensation model. NBC had initially wanted to buy KRON from Chronicle, but was outbid by Young.

The weak-signaled KNTV will need cable carriage to become a viable player. The topography of the 11-county San Francisco television market puts the broadcaster in an estimated 92 percent of the region's television homes, even with cable carriage.

AT&T's efforts to make room for KNTV on a low channel number have angered several local cities. In some communities, the cable operator evicted long-time community access programming to make room for the new affiliate.

Young Broadcasting wasn't happy about AT&T Broadband's decision to drop BayTV. In a press release, chairman Vincent Young said it was unfortunate that "AT&T Broadband has decided to end the delivery of the important local programming."

"Since we acquired KRON and its ownership position in Bay TV, we made numerous improvements to the channel and achieved significant gains in viewership," Young said in the release. "We regret that this decision will not allow us to serve the community as before."

Food Network will benefit from Bay TV's demise: In one day, it will add 1.6 million cable homes throughout the San Francisco Bay area.

"For 18 months, that has been the most requested channel. The Bay Area has an insatiable appetite for Food," Johnson quipped.