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Fox Plans 'Unwired' Program Network

Further elaborating on News Corp. President-COO Peter Chernin’s remarks Wednesday, Fox Television Stations CEO Jack Abernethy told the group’s general managers today that Fox is looking at starting a new national unwired program service that will emphasize daily strips rather than $2 million weekly dramas and expensive sitcoms.

Nine Fox-owned stations, including in the top-three markets,  will lose their UPN affiliations this fall to  The CW (a new network culled from a combination of The WB and UPN).

In the memo, Abernethy said the new national program service will draw on the talents of both domestic and international producers.

Fox will likely be looking for one additional strip it can pair with Twentieth’s new Desire series of English-language series of telenovelas. It’s no secret that Twentieth has been positioning the strip for prime time since the announcement of the new network on the opening day of NATPE, Jan. 24.

The plans for the new service will be unveiled in the next few weeks following meetings this week with “top television management and the best minds at News Corp.,” Abernethy said in the memo. The service "will be more flexible, offer better marketing and branding opportunities and be more station friendly.”

The CW is looking for reverse compensation from its affiliates, requiring affiliates to carry a 3-5 off-network programming block and a five-hour Saturday morning kid block inherited from The WB.

The Fox program service plan reminded some of the old Operation Prime Time offered years ago for the former Chris-Craft stations now controlled by Fox. That service offered weekly first-run programming as opposed to strips.

Affiliation with The CW "certainly makes no sense" for the four Fox O&Os in markets, such as those in Orlando and Phoenix, where there are no stations owned by Tribune or CBS, Abernethy said.

"Handing over 30 hours of valuable time, receiving little inventory to sell and being asked to pay comp makes no sense for our TV stations,” he wrote. “This would ensure losses, less growth opportunities and continue station brand confusion in this competitive media landscape.”

In his comments Wednesday, Chernin said on a conference call to discuss News Corp.’s earnings, “We're looking at unwired network things. We're talking to all of the other stations out there and seeing plans that we can come up to supply those with programming."