Murdoch Outfoxes CW

His minor network is just crazy enough to succeed.
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Leave it to the foxy characters at

News Corp.

(NWS) - Get Report

to pull a stunt like My TV Network.

Last month

CBS

(CBS) - Get Report

,

Time Warner

(TWX)

and

Tribune

(TRB)

merged their money-losing UPN and WB networks into the CW. In programming terms, the switch left a whole lot of nothingness for some of News Corp.'s owned-and-operated UPN stations.

But it didn't take long for Rupert Murdoch's henchmen to change the game. This week they unveiled their own smaller network titled My TV Network. Now the arms race is on in terms of signing new affiliates to grow the two rookie networks into all-stars.

While it is generally thought of as unwise to count out Fox Stations chairman Roger Ailes, at first blush the odds are long for My TV Network.

Between former CBS-owned UPN stations and Tribune WB stations, the new CW has 50% coverage across the land. That's without signing a single deal with a station-group affiliate. My TV has about half of that coverage and will rely on 10 Fox-owned stations for starters.

Leadership at both networks say they will be profitable from day one, and both are as busy as Canadian long-tail beavers trying to sign affiliates.

Indeed, a mere two hours after Wednesday's announcement My TV reps were pounding the pavement in Manhattan. One source at a major broadcasting company said they were in his offices barely an hour after the presentation.

The options for most independent stations are clear: go to the CW, pay cash (known as reverse compensation) to Les Moonves for his CW content; go with the Fox-owned product and get a bunch of untested content, but possibly a better than generically accepted revenue split; or go off net into the syndication fray and pay for

Seinfeld

and

Dr.Phil

reruns.

The CW has the advantage of being able to take the best UPN and WB programming and fill its slate. On the flip side, My TV Network will lean on two spicy telenovelas that it will broadcast two hours five nights a week.

CBS' Moonves, asked Thursday on his company's earnings call about the new Fox network, said of his network that "we have a very strong station base." Moonves also said that there's a lot of activity going on at the affiliate level.

Traditionally, networks including ABC, NBC and CBS paid affiliates cash to carry their programming. But as programming continues to skyrocket, cash compensation to affiliates is set to go the way of the dodo bird as contracts expire.

Sources say, however, that Ailes and company are not looking for compensation from new affiliates and are considering a more balanced 60%-40% ad split between themselves and new partners, versus the norm of approximately 75% for the nets and 25% for the affiliates.

Those factors could help My TV's cause with affiliates, some of whom are working hard to stay in the game in this rapidly changing media landscape. As one station group executive put it, "We were pleasantly surprised" with the My TV offering. "They just might have a chance."