WJZ to join CBS in 3-station deal

July 15, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

A headline on the front page of yesterday's newspaper incorrectly said that three television stations, including Baltimore's WJZ, were involved in the strategic alliance between Westinghouse Broadcasting and CBS Inc. Five stations are involved.

The Sun regrets the errors.

The shake-up in Baltimore's TV market continued yesterday as the owners of WJZ announced a deal that will make the city's top-rated station a CBS affiliate for the next 10 years.

The move left WBAL -- the current home of CBS in Baltimore -- without a network and likely to align itself with either NBC or Fox.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

The Westinghouse Broadcasting Co., or Group W, announced an agreement yesterday in which its stations in Baltimore, Boston and Philadelphia will switch over to CBS, joining the group's CBS-affiliated stations in San Francisco and Pittsburgh.

The announcement comes a month after WJZ lost its affiliation with ABC. That happened when ABC signed a similar multistation deal with Scripps-Howard, the owner of WMAR.

WJZ will be the new home in Baltimore of such popular CBS shows as David Letterman, "60 Minutes" and "Murphy Brown."

Under terms of the agreement, the switch will take place by the end of the year. But it could happen as soon as Labor Day so local stations don't have to promote a fall lineup of shows for a network they'll be leaving.

"For over two months, we and Group W have been in intense and constructive discussion regarding this alliance. The result is this very exciting agreement, which further demonstrates our commitment to the network/affiliate system and our belief in the future of broadcasting," said Laurence A. Tisch, chairman and chief executive officer of CBS Inc.

"We are delighted to create this alignment with CBS, which will help both organizations accomplish long-term strategic goals," said Bill Korn, Group W's president and CEO.

Other parts of the deal include CBS and Group W forming a joint venture to acquire other major market TV stations, and a production company to make programs for both Group W and CBS stations, Mr. Korn said.

The seven CBS-owned stations and the five Group W stations zTC will reach about a third of the nation's television households.

In addition to WJZ, CBS will add WBZ-TV in Boston, the nation's sixth-largest market, and KYW-TV in Philadelphia, the fourth-largest market. Baltimore is the 22nd-largest market.

The other two Group W stations, already affiliated with CBS, are KPIX-TV in San Francisco, the fifth-largest market, and KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, the 17th-largest market.

None of the parties yesterday would discuss financial arrangements, but the deal will mean millions of dollars in increased compensation to the Group W stations.

"This effectively tosses the Baltimore TV market into turmoil," said Marcellus Alexander, WJZ's general manager. "Competitively, as it relates to network change, it levels the playing field."

WBAL, owned by the Hearst Broadcast Group, is likely to sign with NBC, which has been shopping for a Baltimore outlet since losing WMAR to ABC last month.

But considering the restructuring of network affiliations, even a WBAL-NBC marriage is not a certainty.

Rupert Murdoch, Fox's chief executive officer, said this week in Los Angeles that his network is willing to consider affiliating with any strong VHF station. Fox, currently aligned with WBFF in the Baltimore market (a UHF station), is expected to talk to Hearst about WBAL's affiliating with the network.

"We'll now review all of our options, which are many. And we'll choose the path that best suits the momentum we already enjoy with our acquisition of 'Oprah' and such things as our weekend newscasts," said Phil Stolz, WBAL's general manager.

It would be ironic if WBAL and Fox wound up together. That would mean NFL football comes back to Channel 11 after the hoopla of Fox's stealing pro football from CBS last year.

ABC took on WMAR as its Baltimore affiliate last month, ending a 45-year association with WJZ. That alignment was a reaction to a deal between Mr. Murdoch and New World Television in early June that resulted in eight affiliates of ABC, NBC and CBS jumping ship to sign with Fox.

The goal of Mr. Murdoch's raid was to upgrade in as many markets as he could from UHF to VHF stations. VHF stations -- the ones located on the lower end of the dial -- generally have a signal that travels farther and is received better. They are also generally more established in their markets and are worth more. WMAR, WJZ and WBAL are the VHF stations in Baltimore, while WBFF and WNUV are UHF stations.

Mr. Alexander and WBAL's Mr. Stolz said the changes in affiliation are likely to confuse viewers.

"I guess everybody will be buying billboards, radio and newspaper ads telling viewers where they can see their favorite shows," Mr. Stolz said.

In terms of losses and gains for WJZ, the biggest losses are in network news and demographics.

ABC, led by Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel, ranks first in news among viewers. CBS, led by Dan Rather and Connie Chung, is second. "This Morning" on CBS is the lowest-rated morning show; ABC's "Good Morning America" is first.

In prime time, CBS is still No. 1 in households but has the oldest audience. It is expected to lose its household lead to ABC this year. ABC has the best demographic profile of any network, meaning it has the most viewers in the 18 to 49 age group -- the group most attractive to advertisers.

Also, WJZ as a CBS affiliate will not have any football to replace ABC's "Monday Night Football."

There is some good sports news for WJZ, though. The CBS-Group W deal specifies that WJZ may continue to carry Orioles baseball not only through its current contract but as long as it wants, according to Mr. Alexander, the station's general manager.

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