Attention, local couch consumers: You're going to need cable TV for your round-the-clock fix of Home Shopping Network, as the consumer channel has agreed to sell its Baltimore broadcast station for $80 million.
United Television Inc. of Beverly Hills, Calif., will buy WHSW, Channel 24, and most likely convert it into a UPN network affiliate. That will restore UPN -- home of "Star Trek: Voyager" -- to Baltimore's airwaves just as the current UPN affiliate switches to another network.
Home Shopping Network had already been planning to move its shopping services off broadcast channels and onto cable over the next 12 months. The network had planned to offer an innovative slate of local programming on its UHF broadcast channels, starting in April with a Miami affiliate that will air a mix of local-flavored soap operas, sporting events and talk shows.
But the Baltimore market is not big enough to support such an ambitious venture, said Adam Ware, executive vice president of Silver King Broadcasting -- the HSN subsidiary that owns WHSW and 11 other stations.
"In order for us to justify that expense in local broadcasting," Ware said, "we have to be in a market with about $400 million in revenue spent on advertising in TV stations. Baltimore is $190 million."
He said HSN had been working on various options for the Baltimore station, and probably would have kept it had United Television not been willing to pay such an attractive price. "The best option really for the station was to sell at this price," Ware said.
Home Shopping Network acquired WHSW in 1986 for about $15 million, he said. HSN then converted the station's focus from religious broadcasts to devout consumerism.
Now the network, led by entertainment mogul Barry Diller, is following primary competitor QVC onto cable. Putting local programming on vacated UHF channels is an idea unique in the United States and modeled after what was done to an unaffiliated station in Toronto, Ware said.
Most of HSN's broadcast channels are in larger markets such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles. Only Cleveland among the markets where it has stations is comparable in size to Baltimore, and Ware said the network will be looking hard at the Cleveland affiliate's fate.
Officials at United Television could not be reached yesterday for comment. Evan C. Thompson, president and chief executive officer, said in a news release that `we look forward to expanding our station group by entering the Baltimore market, the country's 23rd largest. Opportunities to acquire stations in the top 25 markets come very infrequently. We expect to build WHSW to strongly complement our already outstanding station group.`
United Television owns five other stations -- UPN affiliates in California, Minnesota and Arizona; an ABC affiliate in Utah; and an NBC affiliate in Texas. It also is buying a UPN station in Florida. The firm's majority shareholder, BHC Communications Inc., also owns three UPN affiliates.
Ware pointed out that with the Sinclair Broadcasting Group converting Channel 54 from UPN to the WB network as of January, United Television can bring UPN to Channel 24 and give the Baltimore area access to all six major commercial broadcast networks.