It’s official: KSWB to switch to Fox

It’s official: Tribune’s KSWB-TV – the market’s San Diego CW affiliate (and former WB affiliate) will switch to Fox effective this August. It was a rumor branded around TV circles the last few weeks, after new Tribune boss Sam Zell mentioned in a video on the company’s Baltimore Sun website (which has been since taken down) that he struck a deal with Fox to change KSWB’s affiliation.

KSWB gains popular prime-time programming including American Idol, House, Family Guy (which the station already airs in syndicated repeats), and The Simpsons. KSWB also will re-launch a news operation instead on relying on outside sources. It has done so since 2005, when Tribune shut down its news department in a cost-cutting move.

KSWB signed on as KTTY (Channel 69) in 1984, and became a WB affiliate in 1995. Tribune has owned the station since 1996.

The deal means Fox is leaving XETV (Channel 6), a founding affiliate which was among the first outside the original six-station Metromedia group to sign on with the fourth network in 1986. In fact, XETV was the first Fox station in the country to “foxify”, by creating an on-air identity known as “Fox 6”. XETV is licensed across the border in Tijuana, Mexico and has a transmitter there, but the station’s offices and studios are in San Diego. XETV is owned by Televisa/Entravision, while programming is handled by Bay City Television.

Tribune will now own seven Fox affiliates, including WXIN-TV in Indianapolis and WXMI-TV in Grand Rapids, Mich. Tribune will continue to own twelve CW affiliates, including WGN-TV in Chicago and WXIN’s sister station in Indianapolis, WTTV. Despite disappointing ratings and reported dissension between the two, Tribune executives appear to be committed to The CW.

No word on where the CW will land in San Diego, or what future program plans XETV has on the horizon after Fox departs.

Deja Vu with an X

This is not the first time XETV has lost an affiliation. In 1972, XETV lost ABC to UHF outlet KCST-TV (Channel 39, now NBC-owned KNSD), after the FCC ruled that foreign stations over the border cannot transmit network programming from a border city when there was an American television station available and as a result, XETV became an independent. (What goes around, came around – unhappy with being forced onto an UHF station, ABC struck a deal to affiliate with then-NBC affiliate KGTV in 1977. The peacock network – in the Nielsen basement at the time – wound up on KCST.)

In 1994, XETV’s Fox affiliation was threatened over live broadcasts of sporting events. Fox acquired rights to air NFL games that year, and FCC regulations prohibited foreign stations from airing live programs into the United States. XETV and Fox applied for and got waivers, but not without a legal challenge from KUSI-TV, which tried to wrest away Fox from XETV. The waivers later became permanent.

Thought: While it seems Fox is taking a step down by affiliating with a lower-rated station with a higher channel number at KSWB, this apparently is not the case – This is not the Fox-New World affiliation swap from 1994, when Fox scored a coup by affiliating with twelve VHF New World-owned Big Three network affiliates, which knocked those networks onto UHF dial positions in many markets, with CBS the hardest hit by losing longtime affiliates in Detroit, Cleveland, Atlanta, and Milwaukee, among others.

VHF and UHF won’t matter in the digital age as analog broadcasting shuts down next year, with digital broadcasting’s ability to deliver stronger and sharper pictures across the board. Plus, don’t forget that the San Diego area has a very high cable and satellite penetration rate – Tribune brands KSWB as “CW5” (the cable channel the station occupies on most systems.) not “CW 69”, its over-the-air analog channel number.

As a result, San Diego’s UHF stations are very competitive with VHF outlets XETV, KFMB-TV (CBS) and KGTV. In fact – KNSD – on OTA Channel 39 and cable channel 7 – regularly wins the 11 p.m. news race. Louisville’s WLKY-TV – on Channel 32 – is that market’s top-rated station, ironically scoring ratings success after losing ABC to WHAS in 1990 and signing up with CBS. Louisville is another market with high cable penetration.

On the other hand, UHF network affiliates involved in the New World swap – notably local news-less KDNL-TV (ABC) in St. Louis and WWJ-TV (CBS) in Detroit, and well as WOIO-TV (CBS) in Cleveland and WGCL-TV (CBS) in Atlanta – have yet to enjoy overall ratings success.

Trivia: Instead of receiving programs via satellite, Fox and XETV had to rely on a “bicycling” arrangement from 1986-94 – i.e. physically delivering a program to a station, which was commonplace with first-run syndicated programming before the 1980’s. Fox programming was transmitted via satellite to a U.S. receiving station, and tapes were made to physically transport across the border to XETV’s facilities in Tijuana.

-Around 5:00a.m. every morning, XETV plays the American and Mexican national anthems before the start of the programming day, as well as technical information in English and Spanish. You can view a clip by clicking here.

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