Three-Network Switch Possible For Seattle TV

The latest scenario of Seattle's TV ownership tangle suggests the possibility of a three-station switch of network affiliations.

Based on a published but unconfirmed report, programming from Fox Broadcasting Co. could move from KCPQ-TV to KIRO-TV.

United Paramount Network shows could move from KIRO to KTZZ-TV.

That could send The WB Network from KTZZ to KCPQ.

The scenario seems to make sense for all involved if it plays out, but no one will confirm the deal that would set it all in motion.

Citing unnamed sources, Broadcasting & Cable magazine this week reported that an agreement is near in which A.H. Belo of Dallas will trade KIRO for TV stations in Phoenix and Austin, Texas.

The magazine said the Fox station group of News Corp. in Los Angeles will acquire KIRO and move Fox programming from KCPQ to KIRO.

Seattle is the nation's 12th-largest TV market, while Phoenix is ranked 17th and Austin is 64th.

Belo is divesting KIRO because it is about to acquire Providence Journal Co., owner of top-rated KING-TV (NBC) and NorthWest Cable News. Federal regulations prohibit ownership of more than one broadcast TV station per market.

The swap or sale of KIRO is only one deal in the works here.

Gaylord Entertainment of Nashville last month announced it will sell KSTW-TV (CBS) to Cox Communications of Atlanta for $160 million, and Dudley Communications of Wausau, Wis., has put KTZZ up for sale.

In short, four of six major commercial stations in Seattle soon will have new owners: KING, KIRO, KSTW and KTZZ.

If Fox acquires KIRO, United Paramount Network programming would need a new home in Seattle.

That could be KTZZ, according to Broadcasting magazine. Viacom's Paramount Station Group, the magazine reported, is a leading candidate to buy KTZZ.

If Viacom bought KTZZ, Viacom-owned UPN would displace The WB Network on the station and WB would need a new outlet in Seattle - perhaps finding its way onto KCPQ, which would be the only station without a network partner.

However, KTZZ sources yesterday said Viacom is merely one of several companies still in the running to buy the station. If Viacom doesn't acquire KTZZ, WB could stay on KTZZ and it would be UPN looking for a new home, perhaps on KCPQ.

Belo officials could not be reached for comment yesterday. Spokeswomen for Fox and Paramount declined to comment. Local station managers said they have heard nothing to lend credence to the report about KIRO.

"On Friday, I also heard that Fox was not close to the deal for KIRO and was turning its attention to another station they could acquire," said KCPQ general manager Roger Ottenbach.

But the Belo-Fox swap scenario makes sense. The rumor also is circulating in Phoenix, where Fox owns KSAZ-TV.

Fox also owns KTBC-TV in Austin. That station would well complement WFAA-TV (ABC) in Dallas, Belo's flagship, and KHOU-TV (CBS) in Houston. Belo emphasizes news on its stations, so adding a third property in Texas, in the state capital, would be attractive.

Fox has long been rumored to be interested in owning a station in Seattle - especially one with a strong news operation, now that the new Fox News Channel is up and running and relies heavily on local affiliates for domestic news.

Ottenbach said that without Fox programming, KCPQ, owned by Kelly Television of Sacramento, might indeed look to affiliate with WB or UPN.

"But we'd look at every possibility," he said. "We're independent operators from way back and would relish operating from an independent basis."