Why New Television Networks Are Born

Article excerpt

MORE for business considerations than for the urgency of public demand, two more national television networks are on the horizon. On Nov. 3, the huge Time Warner combine announced plans for a sixth network next fall. Paramount Communications, currently at the heart of a $10-billion takeover battle, unveiled plans for a fifth network last week.

The addition of two networks comes at a time when the four established ones - ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox Broadcasting - are slowly regaining strength after a slump in viewership.

The two new networks face problems from the start. Their operational base must be independent affiliates. In the case of Paramount, which is partnered with Chris-Craft Industries, this involves four Paramount-owned stations plus half-a-dozen independents operated by Chris-Craft.

Time Warner has chosen the Tribune Company of Chicago as its network partner. Tribune owns seven key independents, including WPIX in New York and KTLA in Los Angeles. (Its WGN station in Chicago may not participate in the new network.)

Ironically, and very likely a signpost for the future development of TV, Time Warner will have to depend on cable to stitch together a sixth network. Time Warner is the second-biggest cable operator in the United States.

While Time Warner and Tribune have the basic stations for a network, they will need cable to establish a viable operation, since most independent stations in the US are already affiliated with one network or another.

Fox Broadcasting, which set up the fourth network in 1987 in the face of much industry skepticism, signed up many of the key independent stations as affiliates. The network has been doing very well, pitching its programs largely to a younger audience.

PROGRAM producers welcome the new networks. "We couldn't be happier," says Frank Agrama, an independent Hollywood producer. "More outlets for us means more business. What worries me is how the major advertisers are going to split their dollars. …