WVBG HURT BY UPN DEAL

MARK McGUIRE Staff writer
Section: LIFE & LEISURE,  Page: D5

Date: Wednesday, November 17, 1999

WVBG, Ch. 25, played by the rules, and is now getting the shaft. Again. The independent station that started up last summer got an affiliate deal to run UPN programming, but could not get itself on the dominant cable system, Time Warner. Six months. A year. Nothing.


Now Clear Channel, parent company of WXXA, Ch. 23, has struck a tentative deal with Time Warner Cable and UPN to create a cable-only station, WEDG, Ch. 4, that will air UPN programming starting Jan. 1.


This week the sides are expected to finalize the agreement, which will also knock WSBK, Ch. 38, off the local cable outlet (Boston Bruin games will air on WEDG).


This is a good business deal, at least clearly for Time Warner and Clear Channel. But this is certainly not good for WVBG (which will lose UPN programming), a portion of Capital Region viewers and possibly UPN.


WVBG -- and noncable subscribers -- are sorry, out of luck, or something like that.


If you don't have cable (or a satellite dish), face it: You are only one-fifth of the market. Time Warner doesn't care about you, unless it can create a greater impetus for you to sign up. C'mon, it's business.


``Here we have an opportunity to put on cable-exclusive, local UPN product and retain the benefits of Bruins hockey,'' Time Warner spokesman Peter Taubkin said. ``We hope we have a product that we hope is appealable to as many people as possible.''


Clear Channel benefits in two ways: gaining a cable outlet, and ridding itself of a network competitor in the on-air arena. No, you can't blame Time Warner or Clear Channel (WEDG could be marketed as Edge TV, a synergistic move to go along with its Edge radio stations).


But you still should be concerned about two media giants spreading their influence even wider.


If you are not troubled about so much programming -- radio and television -- being consolidated under one corporate umbrella, start. How would you like one newspaper company in town? One gas station outfit? One movie theater chain? (Oops, sorry, turns out we're heading that way already.)


In fact, it's more than two media giants. Time Warner Cable's parent company also has a stake in the WB network. Clear Channel owns the Fox affiliate, will now have a UPN affiliate, and already owns a string of stations (some of which they have to sell to get within federal guidelines). And don't forget that the Viacom purchase of CBS means they own parts of two networks, the other being UPN.


Soon all of us in the media will be owned by one company called Fred.


WVBG still has a case before the Federal Communications Commission to get a ``must carry'' ruling that would compel Time Warner to put it on the air. Time Warner counters that WVBG is a low-power station, and that the company does not have to add it to the system.


Dan Carbonera, president of WVBG parent company Vision 3 Broadcasting out of Vermont, said since having the UPN affiliation wasn't enough to get the station on cable, maybe that is not the deciding factor.


But make no mistake; without cable, the station is dead. And to make it on cable, having an affiliation is vital.


UPN stands to gain by a local presence on cable. But its shows were already seen in this market out of Boston, while noncable subscribers could also watch via WVBG. Think for a minute: Wouldn't UPN get a decent slice of that noncable market, since viewers would have only eight channels (NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, WB, UPN, Pax and public television)? Now what percentage of a much larger pie will UPN get when going against 70-odd stations?


UPN spokesman Paul McGuire (no relation) had no comment on the deal.


And yet there is another wrinkle. When Fox was coming down hard on its affiliates early this year for a new financial deal, WXXA rumbled that it could dump Fox and go with UPN. WXXA general manager Dave D'Antuono said that is not the case here. ``To our understanding there is no plan to abandon our Fox affiliation or for Fox to abandon us,'' he said.


The only ones getting abandoned are WVBG and those without cable.


Surf's up for Carey


Give ``The Drew Carey Show'' credit: Among a crowded field of good Wednesday night shows (including ``The West Wing'' and ``Roswell''), the ABC comedy has done its best to stand out from the pack.


Last week ``Drew Carey'' (9 p.m., WTEN, Ch. 10) went live, and incorporated components from Carey's other show, the hysterical improv ``Whose Line is it Anyway?'' Tonight, there will be not one but two shows: one for TV, the other for the Internet.


Go to http://www.winloud.com (as in Winfred-Louder, Carey's department store) for the episode titled ``Drew-Cam.'' Some of the Internet show will be simulcast from television, while other scenes will be for the Web only.


Public access has a price


The Schenectady Access Cable Council, which runs public access SACC TV-16, is launching its first-ever telethon Friday for what it says are much-needed funds. The 28-hour telethon will run from 6 p.m. Friday through 10 p.m. Sunday. Volunteers are still needed. Those interested can contact chairperson Carla Page at 346-6015.


Mark McGuire is the Times Union TV/radio writer. His column generally appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call him at 454-5467 or send e-mail to mmcguire@timesunion.com.