At Least One B'caster Already Kicking Tires

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Bob Ruiz, whose Capital Broadcasting Corp. in Woodland Hills, Calif., owns low-power, home-shopping TV stations in Oxnard and Van Nuys, was making the rounds at last November's Western Show's chairman's reception, talking to cable operators about possibly selling him cable systems.

"I talked to John Rigas and said, 'You're killing me. Sell me one of the small systems you don't want,' " Ruiz said last week, referring to Adelphia Communications Corp.'s chairman.

He said Rigas promised to think about it.

After last week's U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit decision removing the ban on owning a TV station and a cable system in the same market, Ruiz has more places in which to shop.

Lacking the finances to make any huge acquisitions, Ruiz said he is looking at buying, in total, maybe 20,000 cable subscribers. To do that, he'll probably have to package several systems together, then line up the financing, he said.

Ruiz said it's not a problem if the cable systems he found to buy were outside the broadcast reach of his stations — he just wants to be able to add those subscribers in his pitches to advertisers.

The price for the system would have to be right, though. But that probably wouldn't be the case for systems that Rigas or other large MSOs might want to sell.

Bruce Leichtman, an independent media analyst in Massachusetts, said he figured the best synergies for cable operators looking to buy in-market broadcasters — or vice-versa — would be, as in Ruiz's case, for cross-advertising purposes.

He pointed out that some operators own powerful regional channels — such as New England Sports Network and Time Warner Cable's New York 1 News network — that could tie in nicely with local TV operations.

OLYMPIC EXPERIMENTS

There would be greater incentive for in-tandem ad selling if TV and cable assets in a market were jointly owned, cable executives opined last week.

Until now, the few known examples of joint station-and-system ad sales in the same markets have centered on the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Those involve Adelphia and NBC affiliate WGRZ-TV in Buffalo, N.Y.; Time Warner Cable and KGET in Bakersfield, Calif.; and Insight Communications Co. and WLEX in Lexington, Ky.

Indications late last year were that at least two of those joint-selling Olympics experiments — Adelphia's and Time Warner's — enjoyed brisk sales.

The idea is not completely novel, though. Last November, Zenith Media Services executive vice president and director of local broadcast Bonita LeFlore had predicted that such joint selling "will be on the increase once the restrictions on station ownership have been addressed."

Last Thursday, LeFlore said, "Media companies need to gain share in a shrinking and fragmented environment. These new selling opportunities will allow them to compete."

Ruiz, meanwhile, hopes the court case doesn't add to the price cable system operators will seek to sell out. "They'll come into reality," he said. "There's no more money out there."

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