The Distribution Derby

The CW network closed a key deal with station group ACME Communications last week, as well as individual affiliation pacts with 10 other stations. In the process, it moved several steps closer to its goal of reaching 90% of U.S. television homes by its Sept. 5 launch. The deals bring distribution to about 60%.

Fox startup My Network TV, meanwhile, signed several big deals of its own last week. Gaining carriage in two top-25 markets (St. Louis and Portland, Ore.) helped push My Network TV’s distribution to 45% of the country.

Both networks still need to sign up more affiliates, particularly in smaller markets, and look to conclude distribution deals in the next few weeks, ahead of the upfronts in mid May.

With ACME, The CW will be carried on the company’s seven WB stations in midsize markets, including standouts WBDT Dayton, Ohio, and WBXX Knoxville, Tenn. ACME will be the third-largest CW group, behind Tribune and CBS. ACME considered pitches from both networks, but President/COO Doug Gealy says known programs won it for CW. “CW is a safer move for the next two to three years,” he says. “We’ll have better ratings out of the box.”

The ACME-CW partnership is symbolic. ACME is headed by The WB founder Jamie Kellner, who started the stations to get WB programming into markets where no other outlet was available. According to executives familiar with the deal, the ACME stations will pay The CW reverse compensation, as they have with The WB. Most WB stations pay fees to the network, while UPN stations do not.

The CW also signed Belo Corp.’s KASW Phoenix (market No. 14) and Hearst-Argyle’s KCWE Kansas City, Mo. (No. 31). The only top-20 market where it still needs a partner is Minneapolis-St. Paul.

“This network will succeed in a way that will lift the values of every station that affiliates with us,” says CW CFO John Maatta. “We’re going to have a lot of quality programming and a marketing apparatus that will be unsurpassed.”

Kansas City was particularly hot because three stations—KCWE, Meredith Broadcasting’s WB outlet KSMO and E.W. Scripps’ independent KMCI—were vying for the affiliations. KCWE went with The CW, and KSMO will be a My Network TV station, as will sister KPDX Portland, Ore. “The network has intriguing programming, the inventory split is attractive, and we can expand our local presence with more news, sports and community programming and fit under the My TV umbrella,” says Meredith President Paul Karpowicz.

My Network TV nabbed nine other affiliates last week: Raycom Media’s WUAB Cleveland, KFVE Honolulu and WBXH Baton Rouge, La; Capitol Broadcasting’s WWWB Charlotte, N.C; Venture Technologies Group’s WNYA Albany, N.Y.; Television Wisconsin’s WISC(DT) Madison, Wis.; Roberts Broadcasting’s WRBU St. Louis; Mirage Media’s KPSE Palm Springs, Calif.; and QueenB Television’s WKBT(DT) LaCrosse-Eau Claire, Wis.

Meanwhile, The CW signed WHCP Charleston-Huntington, W.Va., owned by Commonwealth; WPXT Portland, Maine, owned by Pegasus; KPXJ Shreveport, La., a Minden Television station; WBRL Baton Rouge, La., owned by Communications Corp. of America; WRWB Rochester, N.Y., owned by The WB and Time Warner Cable; WFLI Chattanooga, Tenn., owned by Meredith; KVIA(DT) El Paso, Texas, owned by News-Press & Gazette; and WBCB(DT) Youngstown, Ohio, owned by Vindicator.

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