Duopolies test market muscle

Montel Williams
might tell the early story about duopolies. Fox is yanking the talk show from the old Chris-Craft station News Corp bought in New York City to play on its O&O there, WNYW-TV.

In Los Angeles, the Williams
show will begin airing on both the old Chris-Craft station and Fox O&O.

the talker fronted by Ricki Lake,
is set to make similar jumps in those markets because News Corp. is convinced such movement will grant it great leverage with advertisers.

Looking at Montel Williams'
planned 3 p.m. run on KTTV-TV Los Angeles and 10 a.m. run on KCOP-TV there, for example, advertisers might efficiently gain more eyeballs by spreading their spots across two different episodes that air on two different stations. As for Ricki, it has nabbed a second 10 a.m. run on WNYW-TV, complementing its current airing at 5 p.m. on WWOR-TV in New York. In Los Angeles, it'll stay put at 5 p.m. on KCOP-TV, adding a home in the afternoons on KTTV-TV.

Ad buyers, at least some of them, aren't crazy about the perceived clout of duopolies.

Fox salespeople might think advertisers will delight in being able to buy another ad on a spread-out Montel
or Ricki, but, "if these guys are going to try to monopolize anything, set their own rates, that could backfire," says Tom DeCabia, executive vice president at Advanswers PHD, particularly, he adds, in a tough economy. Fox stations' executives would not comment.

Jean Pool, president of operations at the ad firm Mindshare, explains, "The more inventory they control, the more power they have over the rates they can dictate." As proof, she says that, when the radio industry began consolidating, "they immediately gouged us on pricing."

For now, Pool says, Mindshare will treat Fox O&O WNYW-TV and former Chris-Craft outlet WWOR-TV as two separate entities, even though Fox wants the two treated as one combined ad force. Fox is said to be looking to test a new combined selling strategy in New York, and Pool is meeting with her Mindshare colleagues to discuss the scenario.

She might resist Fox's plan. But she concedes, "We're probably whistling Dixie at this point. This is how it is."

Jim Burke, president of sales at the Fox O&Os, confirmed that they are looking to have one person sell both stations nationally and have fewer people looking after the duopolies on the local side.

A few station sources say the duopoly clout may be diluted if station pairs in major markets overestimate their power.

Initiative Media's director of local broadcast negotiations Amy Nizich thinks it's "absolutely" wrong for Fox stations to get a big head about their muscle with advertisers. But she acknowledges that it's the world in which ad buyers now live: "We didn't get a vote."