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Fox Renews UPN Affiliation

The Fox station group's nine UPN affiliates have reupped with the network for at least another three years.

The deal, announced last week, is good news for both. For UPN, losing the group would have been a mortal blow. The Fox-owned UPN affiliates are the network's single biggest station group. Without that group, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for UPN to sell national ad time. And UPN owner Viacom has said it cannot accept UPN's annual loses indefinitely.

For Fox, the deal provides prime time programming that the company would probably have to pay a lot more for if it had to purchase it in the syndication market.

(Some had speculated that Fox could dump UPN and repurpose its Fox-network programming on those outlets. There's no law against it, but Fox owner Rupert Murdoch would have taken a lot of political heat for killing off a rival network when he's trying to convince the world that media concentration isn't such a bad thing.)

CBS CEO Leslie Moonves, who oversees CBS and UPN for Viacom, called the stations "very important part of the UPN family."

He wasn't understating it. They represent a whopping 24% of U.S. TV homes. The multi-year deal covers WWOR-TV New York, KCOP-TV Los Angeles, WPWR-TV Chicago, WDCA-TV Washington, KTXH-TV Houston, WFTC-TV Minneapolis, KUTP-TV Phoenix, WRBW-TV Orlando-Daytona Beach, Fla., and WUTB-TV Baltimore. Fox has duopolies in eight of those markets.

Fox inherited five of the nine UPN affiliations when it bought Chris-Craft/BHC in 2000. "This new agreement extending our UPN affiliations is a perfect fit with our business and operations plans," said Fox TV Stations Chairman and Chief Executive Mitch Stern.

The negotiations had been going on for several months.

Moonves said CBS is "excited and enthusiastic about UPN's future." That is a welcome signal to the folks at the co-owned net, given recent rumors that it could fold if its fortunes did not improve.

The previous affiliation deal had another year to run, according to Sandy Pastoor, senior vice president, affiliate relations, for UPN. "But both parties wanted to renew now to send a signal that the affiliations were going to continue and that the network was going to go forward.

"Now we can make serious plans in terms of production commitments and all kinds of stuff," she said.

The new deal supercedes the old and takes effect immediately. "It's not that unusual at any network" to do a renewal early. Sometimes, Pastoor said, deals get done two years in advance because it is in the interests of both parties.