News Corp. UPN Buy-Out?By Amy
March 3, 2001 - 7:13 PM
Less than two months after UPN and News Corp. reached an agreement regarding the Chris Craft affiliate stations, it appears that News Corp may be giving some serious thought to a comment made by president Peter Chermin at the time – "Maybe we'd take it over."
Since its inception in 1995, UPN has lost more than a staggering one billion dollars, ands stands to loose well over $100 million in this year alone. Once expected to be in the black by the beginning of this year, the network is likely to remain unprofitable until at least the 2002-2003 season. This news also comes hard on the heels of the networks’ first ever negative sweeps result, loosing a quarter of its 12-17 year old audience, with a drop of 11% in households and 13% in total viewers – thought to be due primarily to reality shows ‘Survivor’ and ‘Temptation Island’.
News Corp has claimed an interest in working with UPN from the outset, though on their terms. Now it’s been revealed that Peter Chernin has been talking with his Viacom counterpart, Chief Operating Officer Mel Karmazin, on various ownership scenarios, including the possibility of News Corp’s Fox division taking over UPN outright. Another potential scenario is Fox taking up part or half ownership in its smaller rival, leading them to co-run the network, though the last time UPN was co-owned – by Chris Craft, incidentally - it bought out its partner out.
UPN executives appear tentatively optimistic about the idea, which could see UPN’s financial hardship lessened by the greater resources of News Corp. Also, any deal reached will almost certainly see the networks swapping and trading local tv stations to re-enforce and expand on their market shares, also giving them the potential to "...create duopolies for both parties," according to one executive. A duopoly would see the companies have two stations in the one market with only one set of administrative staff, thus creating a cost saving while (hopefully) increasing ratings.
UPN’s president Dean Valentine, however, seems to have been left out of the negotiations to some extent, and is reportedly focusing the majority of his attention on the network’s current programming options – which may have just become a little bit wider, thanks to NBC and WB.
As previously reported, UPN’s closest rival, WB, has been dithering on wether or not to renew cult tv show 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' – and has now completely dithered away their exclusive negotiating rights for the show, throwing the bidding door open to ABC, FOX and, of course, UPN, though at present signs are that the show’s most likely to stay in the family and go to FOX.
NBC, on the other hand, has done exactly the same thing, only with their multi-award winning show, 'Fraiser'. Paramount, who owns the show, is reported to be asking NBC for $5.5 million an episode, while the show’s star, Kelsey Grammer, is demanding another 3 years commitment. While he doesn’t believe that NBC wants to loose the show, which has always been a consistent rater, he admits that anything’s possible and took some time to speculate on possible outcomes. With the two point five million dollar per episode jump, NBC officials are apparently rather pessimistic about retaining the show and have begun downplaying its importance.
Like with Fox and 'Buffy', Paramount is likely to try to keep the show within its own family, which means either CBS or UPN. While the former is thought to be most likely, Grammer, confident that his audience would remain loyal no matter where it ended up, believes that ‘Fraiser’ "would probably be a good thing for UPN."
For more information on the potential News Corp buy-out, follow this link to Joe Schlosser’s Tvinsite report, while more on the 'Fraiser'/'Buffy' situation can be found in this article by Michael Ausiello at TV Guide online.