National television executives' surprise decision to scrap two established networks and form a new one in their place caught local affiliates off-guard and sent WNDY-TV Channel 23 looking for content to fill its airwaves this fall.
"I don't think anyone saw this coming," said Scott Blumenthal, vice president of television for Rhode Island-based Lin TV Corp., which owns WNDY.
CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. Entertainment plan to launch The CW this fall, a move that will have far-reaching affects in the local market.
The birth of The CW means the death of CBS' UPN and Warner Bros.' WB networks. The local WB affiliate, WTTV-TV Channel 4, will pick up the new network, but central Indiana's UPN affiliate, WNDY, likely will be forced to go independent.
Traditionally, local TV stations follow one of two business models: Either they become an affiliate of a national network, running network programs and sharing advertising revenue, or they acquire programming from independent TV producers and syndicators.
Networks often give affiliates free or low-cost programming in exchange for ad slots to sell. Independent stations usually must pay for independently produced without the network. Still, the company has plenty of work ahead. Lin also is trying to plan for its UPN affiliates in Fort Wayne; Buffalo, N.Y.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Columbus, Ohio; and New Haven, Conn.
"This is a much bigger picture for us than just WNDY," Blumenthal said.
Local media buyers said Lin might move its Hispanic programming from WIIH over to the more high-profile WNDY, but Blumenthal said that is not likely.
"The Hispanic population is a growing segment in this community, so that switch did occur to me," said Linda Allee, media buyer for locally based Roman Brand Group. Allee said independent stations in this market have done well in the past, adding that WNDY could remain profitable by looking for programming on its own.
Blumenthal said Lin officials will have a direction mapped out for WNDY and its other stations within 30 days. WNDY and WTTV will continue as UPN and WB affiliates until those networks shut down in the fall.
programs and sell all advertising themselves, which is more labor intensive.
"Being an independent is more expensive than being an affiliate," said Dom Caristi, Ball State University associate professor of telecommunications. "And while programming is available, the majority of quality prime-time programming is linked to networks."
With less than eight months to the important fall viewing season, Caristi said, many of the independent TV producers already have deals in the local market.
"WNDY has some options," Caristi said. "But time is of the essence."
WTTV nabbed The CW through a 10-year deal its Chicago-based parent company, Tribune Broadcasting, signed with CBS and Warner Bros. Tribune's affiliates nationwide will carry The CW.
"This whole situation leaves Channel 23 in the lurch," Caristi said.
Meanwhile, WTTV General Manager Jerry Martin thinks the change significantly strengthens his station's position. The CW will run the best-rated shows from the UPN and WB lineups, including "Smallville," "Gilmore Girls," "Veronica Mars," "America's Top Model" and "Everybody Hates Chris."
The move announced in mid January sent officials at Lin-which also owns WISH-TV Channel 8 and WIIH-TV Channel 17-looking for a new plan for their local properties.
Not only is WNDY important to Lin for its advertising revenue, but it also carries WISH's 10 p.m. newscast, which station officials said is a growing source of revenue.
"We plan to continue our 10 p.m. newscast and obviously the lead-in programming there is important," Blumenthal said.
Programming airing directly before a local newscast can have a major impact on the newscast's viewer ratings. Those ratings determine advertising rates during the newscast, which is a critical revenue stream for any local TV station.
Blumenthal said WNDY is profitable as a UPN affiliate, but thinks it will remain so