Failing networks merge to survive

Parent companies of UPN and WB figure CW's stations will cover nearly half the country

SETH SUTEL Associated Press
Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Two small, struggling television networks, UPN and WB, will shut down this fall, and their parent companies plan to form a new network called The CW using programming and other assets from each of them.

The new network will draw on programming from both UPN, whose shows include "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Veronica Mars," as well as from the slate of The WB, which includes "Supernatural," "Smallville" and "Everwood." The announcement was made Tuesday by executives from CBS Please see TV A6 Corp., which owns UPN, and Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc., which owns most of WB.

The Capital Region's current WB station, WEWB Ch. 45, will become the CW affiliate. Diane Howard, the station's vice president and general manager, confirmed its new status Tuesday afternoon.

Both UPN and WB had struggled to compete against larger rivals in the broadcast TV business, including Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, News Corp.'s Fox, General Electric Co.'s NBC and CBS Corp.'s CBS.

The merger of the two networks, both launched in 1995, marks the first time a commercial broadcast network has disappeared since the money-losing DuMont network went out of business in 1955.

The new network will be launched in the fall, the executives said, when both UPN and WB will shut down. It will be a 50-50 partnership between Warner Bros. and CBS, and the network will be carried on stations owned by the Tribune Co., a minority owner of WB and the parent company of WEWB.

Altogether, the 16 Tribune stations and the 12 UPN stations owned by CBS will give the new network coverage in almost half of the country, the executives said. The Capital Region's UPN programming comes through WNYA Ch. 15 (Ch. 51 in the Berkshires). Tribune's ownership of WEWB "obviously means (WNYA) will not be affiliated with the new network," said WNYA Station Manager Duncan Brown in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

He said the station, which is owned by Ventures Technology Group, will immediately begin looking for programming to fill the 10 hours it currently receives from UPN.

It's not yet clear that the combination of two struggling networks will result in a strong one, or even one that is a money-winner. Hal Vogel, a longtime media analyst and author of a book on entertainment industry economics, called the combination "inevitable," saying "these companies were not making money for anybody."

"Chances are, in five years they may not exist at all, or it may be something else, but right now it's better than going alone," Vogel said. "This makes sense - it's not a slam-dunk proposition, but it makes sense. Six networks was too many."

During November sweeps, UPN averaged about 3.7 million viewers nightly and WB about 3.5 million, meaning they were viewed in less than 3 percent of U.S. households, both down slightly from a year earlier. By comparison, current No. 1 network CBS was viewed in more than 9 percent of households on an average night, reaching 14.6 million viewers.

Leslie Moonves, chief executive of CBS Corp., said the new network will air 30 hours of programming seven days a week aimed in part at young audiences.

The plan includes two hours of programs in prime time each night Monday through Friday and three hours on Sunday evening. It will also offer programming on weekday and Sunday afternoons, and five hours of children's programs on Saturday morning.

The new network gets its name from the first letters of its parents' names - C for CBS and W for Warner Bros.

Mark Washburn of Knight Ridder and Times Union entertainment editor Casey Seiler contributed to this article.