Tribune, Fox headed for a Showdown In Seattle

The World Champion Seattle Seahawks generate big bucks for KCPQ and Tribune.
The World Champion Seattle Seahawks generate big bucks for KCPQ and Tribune.

Could have implications for Chicago’s WPWR 

A brewing affiliation fight in Seattle could have implications for a local Chicago TV station.

According to a story in Tuesday’s edition of the New York Post, Fox is expected to yank the affiliation from Tribune Media’s KCPQ in Seattle-Tacoma. As it was reported in local media circles over the last few weeks, Fox is looking to swap KCPQ to Tribune for My Network TV affiliate here in Chicago, WPWR. If the deal goes through, Tribune’s WGN-TV would replace WFLD as WPWR’s duopoly partner – the first time any such instance has happened.

Fox bought WPWR in 2002 when it was a UPN station, for $425 million, a record for a UHF station in the analog era. KCPQ was purchased by Tribune in August 1998, and has been affiliated with Fox since 1986.

The reason is simple: KCPQ airs the majority of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks games, which is part of the NFC package Fox holds (The Seahawks were an AFC team from 1977 to 2001.) Fox wants KCPQ as an O&O because it would grab huge revenue generated by the team and to gain leverage with cable operators who carry their signal, which KCPQ can receive compensation from.

This was the reasoning behind Fox’s recent swap for KTVU in San Francisco (home of the 49ers), trading WFXT in Boston and WHBQ in Memphis to Cox for the station the company had owned since 1963, and the acquisition of WJZY in Charlotte two years ago (home of the Panthers.)

Tribune also owns Seattle My Network TV affiliate KZJO, though its not known if it is part of any future deal. Tribune also owns another My Network TV affiliate, WPHL in Philadelphia.


In a statement released today, Tribune Media officials acknowledged the possible loss of KCPQ, but haven’t signed off on any deal – yet. Tribune owns thirteen other Fox affiliates.

Fox has sent a termination notice to KCPQ, stating the station’s affiliation ends on January 17, 2015. If Fox can’t reach a deal with Tribune, then the network could instead buy or swap for CBS-owned KSTW, which a CW affiliate (KIRO is the market’s CBS affiliate.)

The pressure Fox is putting on Tribune is reminiscent of a deal Westinghouse was forced to make with NBC in 1956, when it swapped its Philadelphia TV and radio properties with the ones NBC owned in Cleveland. Soon after the deal was finalized, Westinghouse filed a complaint with the FCC and the Justice Department over NBC’s coercion and threats – and ordered the swap reversed in 1965 (NBC returned to Philadelphia thirty years later when it acquired WCAU from CBS in a decidedly less-controversial swap deal, necessary after Westinghouse – owner of KYW-TV – purchased CBS.)

As for WPWR, the deal means a programming realignment is likely – Tribune could take over the syndication contracts over several shows on the station, with Fox retaining a few in what is certain to be a complicated and complex process.

For one, Mancow’s ultra low-rated morning TV show would likely come to an end. His radio/TV show is produced at WFLD’s Michigan Ave. studio on the ground floor.

WPWR’s ratings and revenue declined significantly after popular UPN programming (and the network itself) disappeared as the station transitioned itself to My Network TV. Much of its syndicated lineup – especially in daytime and late fringe hours, barely generates a one household rating. In some good news for the beleaguered station, WGN agreed to sub-license six Chicago Bulls games to WPWR, fueling speculation about the swap.

[Updated 9:14 a.m. on 2014-09-24 to add Mancow and WPHL info.]