San Diego Stations Switch Affiliations

The San Diego television landscape underwent a shift Friday. XETV, a Fox affiliate since the network's launch in 1986, became a CW outlet, while Tribune's KSWB turned from a CW to a Fox station . KSWB has a new general manager in Ray Schonbak, and it added around 50 staffers.

While KSWB's news product currently consists of reports from sister KTLA Los Angeles and newscasts produced by NBC-owned KNSD San Diego, the relaunched station -- branded “Fox 5” -- will feature a four-hour morning newscast, hosted by CNN alum Arthel Neville. There will also be an hour-long newscast at 10 p.m.

Tribune announced that it was grabbing San Diego's Fox affiliation in March, leaving Grupo Televisa's XETV without an affiliation come August. In early July, the station announced that it will become “San Diego 6 The CW.”

XETV vice president and GM Richard Doutre Jones, clearly stung by Fox's decision to grant the affiliation to Tribune, addressed the issue in a 1,000-plus-word open letter on the station Web site.

“There was no reason for us to imagine that Fox would ever contemplate making an affiliation switch in San Diego,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, in these troubled times, it seems as though there is no honor or loyalty anymore. With no warning or discussion of any kind, Fox informed us that they were not renewing our affiliation agreement and our only explanation from Fox was, 'These things happen.'”

“All we can surmise,” Doutre Jones added, “was that this change was initiated because the Tribune Co. ... pre-emptively offered Fox Network some type of additional compensation to make the affiliation change.” (Fox did not comment on how Tribune got the affiliation.)

For KSWB, meanwhile, Neville's hiring won't be the only evidence of ramped-up news coverage. Taking a break from rehearsals last week, Schonbak (formerly president of Emmis Television) said the newscasts will be “more fluid than 'two anchors plus weather plus sports' ... It's more in the format of [CNN anchors] Robin Meade or Anderson Cooper, sending it over to a secondary desk. There'll be more movement, more involvement with the studio, shooting from the back lot.”

Despite The CW's ratings woes, Doutre Jones seemed genuinely excited about its new programming, such as 90210, and the fact that XETV is increasing its local presence. That will include four hours of morning news, followed by one-hour lifestyle program San Diego Living and a nightly “11@11” mini-newscast featuring “today's news and tomorrow's weather” in 11 minutes. The latter launches Monday.

He believes XETV's long relationship with San Diegans will ease the transition. “We have an extremely strong local identity,” he said. “We worked very hard to build a strong foundation.”

San Diego is a vital market. While it's the No. 27 Nielsen DMA, BIA Financial Network ranks it No. 19 in terms of revenue, with more than $271 million forecast for 2008. XETV was San Diego's No. 4 local revenue earner in 2007, per BIA, while KSWB was fifth.

Affiliation switches rarely go smoothly. Despite costly marketing campaigns, viewers are frequently left wondering what happened to their favorite station and anchors. “There will be confusion,” said one veteran broadcasting executive who asked not to be identified. “Whether it lasts six months or six years, it's hard to predict.”

Nonetheless, the affiliation switch is considered a coup for Tribune, which is pumping substantial resources into its TV properties as it slashes its newspaper costs. On a conference call in April, Tribune chief operating officer Randy Michaels said KSWB's Fox affiliation boosted the station's value by $150 million.

Some now wonder if more Tribune-owned CWs will switch to Fox outlets. Involved in a partnership with Local TV, which closed on its deal with Fox for eight former owned-and-operated stations earlier this month, Tribune has considerable (and growing) clout in the Fox community.

Tribune Broadcasting president Ed Wilson would not comment on how the affiliation switch transpired. He was also guarded when asked if more of Tribune's CWs -- prior to Friday, it had 14 CWs and six Fox outlets -- might shift to Fox. “Not right now,” Wilson said. “This opportunity presented itself to help the Tribune station group.”

But Wilson, who was president of the Fox Television Network from 2004 until he jumped to Tribune in February, thinks the new KSWB will be a hit in San Diego. “I understand the value of Fox,” he said. “I couldn't be happier with this development.”

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Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.