Fox Finds Synergy With Baseball

By CLAUDIA PESCHIUTTA
Staff Reporter

If it looks like Fox and it sounds like Fox, it must be the local UPN affiliate.

Viewers tuning into Dodger game broadcasts on KCOP-TV (Channel 13) this season might think they have mistakenly landed on Fox Sports Net West 2. That's because the production team that puts together Net West 2's broadcasts is doing the same for KCOP, one of several UPN affiliates purchased last year by Fox Television and Dodger owner News Corp. The company also owns KTTV-TV (Channel 11).

"There's UPN 13 (graphics)...but essentially it is the same look and feel one would see on West 2 that one would see on UPN 13," said David Boylan, vice president and general manager of KCOP and KTTV. Boylan also oversees sales, programming and promotions for Fox Sports Net West and West 2.

KCOP's broadcast of Dodger games will test the synergy that is supposed to be created by media companies owning more than one TV station in the same market. In the case of News Corp.'s L.A. duopoly at KCOP and KTTV, the Dodger deal is expected to bring economic and operating efficiencies. But it also will force chess board-like programming maneuvers to shore up both stations' ratings.

And the production sharing agreement that makes sense for Fox may create conflicts with rival Viacom Inc., owner of the CBS and UPN networks.

Fox will save money by using the same announcers, production staff and similar graphics for games on KCOP and West 2. KCOP had five spring training games on its schedule for March and will broadcast 50 regular season games. West 2 will air 80 regular season games.

The arrangement makes it easier for Fox to sell advertising time for the games by packaging spots on KCOP and West 2. That can only help KCOP, which averages some of the lowest ratings in the L.A. market. The over-the-air games will be promoted on both KCOP and KTTV.

"Fox is great on promos," said Peter Keir, broadcast supervisor for media buyer Round 2 Communications in L.A. "That's definitely going to help (KCOP)."

More games offered

The Dodgers moved to KCOP this year after nearly a decade on KTLA-TV (Channel 5), a WB station owned by Tribune Co. The prior 34 years were spent on KTTV.

The team switched over to KCOP because the station offered to broadcast almost twice as many games as KTLA and presented potential synergies with Fox Sports West 2, said Dodger President and Chief Operating Officer Bob Graziano.

KCOP also agreed to pay $8 million for a three-year contract more than what KTLA could offer since the station would have broadcast fewer games. "It was really more of a network issue," Graziano said. "They weren't able to make us the kind of offer that would entice us to stay at KTLA."

Much of it comes down to viewership. WB programming generates higher ratings for KTLA than UPN shows do for KCOP, which makes Channel 5 less willing to pre-empt its network schedule for baseball.

"UPN, as a minor network, can't be nearly as demanding with its affiliate station," said Andrew Zimbalist, a professor of economics at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. "A UPN affiliate station is carrying stuff that is very low-rated and (KCOP executives) probably salivate at the opportunity to carry the Dodgers."

Fox network programming kept the Dodgers from moving back to KTTV. The team's broadcast schedule, which includes several Saturday and Sunday afternoon games in addition to those on Friday nights, would have presented major problems for KTTV.

"KTTV has a pretty strong Fox network schedule and, unlike UPN, there are a lot of weekend sports commitments," said Jeff Shell, president and chief executive of Fox Cable Networks Group. KTTV carries the Fox line-up of Nascar racing and National Football League games.

"Fox was feeling disadvantaged at potentially pre-empting its primetime programming with Dodger games," said Jeffrey Logsdon, a managing director at investment firm Gerard Klauer Mattison. "By moving them to their other branded franchise in the L.A. market, they can keep the Fox Broadcasting network fully operational."

Helping out KCOP

As KCOP becomes part of the Fox family, however, it may interfere with Viacom's efforts to increase cooperation between its UPN and CBS networks. Among the signs that Viacom wants to bring the two networks closer: UPN affiliates are airing reruns of the CBS series "The Amazing Race" and a special on the National Collegiate Athletic Association's basketball tournament, which has been broadcast on CBS.

Viacom's UPN schedule on KCOP will be thrown off by the Dodger games. Some of the Friday night UPN shows will be bumped to Saturday or Sunday nights during the season, making it harder for them to keep their already small audiences. KCOP airs two reality series on Fridays, "Under One Roof" and the "Amazing Race" repeat.

"We hope to get as good an audience (for those shows) if not better," Boylan said. That will be tough given that changing time slots will make the shows more difficult to find.

L.A. is an important market for UPN, which has spent a lot of money in an effort to boost its ratings. Some of the network's expensive purchases include "Roswell" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," picked up from the WB. UPN also spent millions of dollars for the syndication rights to such shows as "Frasier" and "Seinfeld."

While KCOP's first two preseason Dodger broadcasts on March 16 and 17 averaged a 2.1 rating, a big jump from the 1.0 earned by the first preseason game on KTLA last year, fewer people are watching sports nowadays. In fact, Boylan conceded that some Dodger broadcasts might bring KCOP lower ratings than its regular programming.

So, why take on the games? "We reach different audiences with different programs and this will allow us to reach an audience we don't reach with other programs on the station," he said.

The Dodger games are likely to attract a predominantly male audience, which will give the station a chance to promote shows that appeal to men, such as "WWF Smackdown!" and the Star Trek series "Enterprise." But game broadcasts could hurt other advertising efforts, such as packaging time on CBS and UPN.

In any event, Dodger fans certainly will follow the team to the new station, although as the season unfolds ratings likely will be tied to the team's performance.

"They have a lot of question marks," said Jeff Fellenzer, who teaches a course on sports, business and media at USC's Annenberg School. He pointed to the team's decision to trade outfielder Gary Sheffield and drop relief pitcher Jeff Shaw. "I think the Dodgers are probably looking at a ratings decrease this year," Fellenzer said. "The question is whether the Dodgers can stay in the pennant race into September."

The production agreement will give the broadcasts a sense of consistency that will make viewers feel comfortable, said Lon Rosen, former L.A. sports agent and representative of Magic Johnson.

"In a perfect world, you'd like them to stay in one place but because it is the Dodgers and it will be very well promoted, people will follow them," he said.

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