Fox's Murdoch hails news of turmoil in TV industry

TURNED ON IN L.A. -- FALL PREVIEW

July 14, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Los Angeles -- Brace yourself. The world of network television as you know it is in for a wild ride in coming months.

That's the message Rupert Murdoch delivered here yesterday to TV critics as his Fox Broadcasting Co. opened its three-day preview of new fall shows.

Murdoch, Fox chairman and CEO, didn't talk much about new shows during his rare Q&A session. The emphasis instead was on the frenzied game of musical chairs occurring in network-affiliate relations, which Murdoch started last month through a deal with New World Television that resulted in eight stations leaving the old-line networks for Fox. Baltimore is still feeling the effects of the deal, which saw ABC drop WJZ (Channel 13) after 45 years for WMAR (Channel 2). Announcement of a new affiliation for WJZ is expected this week.

"Since the New World deal, what's happened is a tremendous stirring up among all the stations," Murdoch said. "The situation is much more fluid than it's ever been.

"We have talks going in literally dozens of markets. . . . There's going to be a year of turmoil ahead."

The main reason for all the movement is money, he said. As a result of the New World deal, the value of local stations across the country has been "greatly enhanced.

"ABC, CBS and NBC had rather loose agreements in many cases with the local stations, and they're now having to increase compensation [the money a network pays a local station to be its affiliate] considerably," Murdoch said.

"I don't want to be too specific, but I know of one case where the compensation went from $3 million to $18 million a year in a 10-year deal," he said.

One way local stations are being told they can make more money by signing with Fox is by getting rid of network news at dinner time.

"Quite simply, Fox offers affiliates a better business plan," said Murdoch. "Doing local instead of network news means stations can increase their community service as well as their profitability.

"I don't think people watch [nightly network newscasts] very NTC much anymore. When you compare their ratings with the ratings of locally edited shows that air at 6 p.m., the local ones out-rate them. It's the same as in newspapers: Local newspapers outsell national newspapers. People want locally edited news."

Murdoch did talk about other matters during the session:

* On the unraveling of the CBS-QVC deal, he said, "Yeah, I'm surprised by it, and I must tell you that the deal with CBS that

Barry [Diller] had put together was an incredible deal for him. . . . It's an amazing achievement to build QVC up in peoples' perception to where it could merge with CBS that way. It's strange that one of his own shareholders [Comcast] should derail it."

* On new Fox shows that he's proud of, Murdoch said: "From last season, there's 'X-Files' and 'Living Single.' This year, there's 'Hardball' [a sitcom about baseball that will remind many of 'Major League']."

* On the wisdom of moving "Melrose Place" to Monday nights at 8 starting next fall, he said, "We've debated that endlessly, and, yes, there might be a problem with content at that hour. . . . If there is, we'll move it. But I think it's better off moving away from competition with 'Home Improvement' [on ABC] and going up against some pretty tired programs on Monday."

* On predictions for the fall season, Murdoch says ad figures indicate a success. He said the network just concluded its best up-front sales season ever, with $700 million in advertising already sold -- up 30 percent from last year.

"We won't win in households," he said. "But households is ego stuff. . . . I think we will win Sundays with viewers 18 to 49 -- the demographic that counts."

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