Buoyed by the resurgence of Major League Baseball's
Chicago Cubs and Sammy Sosa and by the conversion of TBS Superstation to basic, WGN has
seen a significant increase in affiliates thus far this year.
The network may also offer operators another incentive
soon: WGN could replace its primetime schedule from The WB Television Network with top
theatrical movies and off-network series.
WGN has fielded numerous carriage inquires from operators
this summer due to the surging interest in the Cubs. While the team has always been a
strong ratings draw for the superstation, interest has piqued this year due to Sosa's
pursuit of the home run record and the Cubs' drive toward a playoff birth, said Derk
Tenzythoff, vice president of programming services for UVTV, the network-provider company
that markets WGN.
"Baseball has always been important to the channel,
but interest is great because of the Cubs," Tenzythoff said. "It's
certainly helped the sales effort -- it's become an icebreaker and a conversation
While Tenzythoff couldn't say how many subscribers
were actually added due to the Cubs games, he did say that the service, which has 45
million subscribers, added about 1.5 million to 2 million subscribers after TBS converted
from a superstation to a basic service Jan. 1.
And Tenzythoff expects more operators to come aboard due to
the TBS fallout before the end of the year, as operators realize that they can add WGN
without any additional cost.
The Federal Communications Commission only lets cable
systems carry a certain number of superstations, with anything above that number prompting
a penalty charge. But with the TBS conversion, systems can effectively substitute WGN as
their superstation, without facing any financial penalty.
Given the added momentum from the Cubs, the service hopes
to break through in the Northeast, where it's had little success to date -- mainly
due to the presence of Secaucus, N.J.-based former superstation WWOR, which carried New
York Mets baseball games throughout the area. But with WWOR no longer offered as a
superstation, Tenzythoff said, WGN is poised to make a run.
"We've really committed ourselves to expanding
our reach, and we look forward to forging ahead in 1999," he said.
The network's appeal to operators could be boosted by
a potential break from The WB, which provides WGN with much of its primetime programming.
Tenzythoff would not comment on the matter, but sources close to the situation said WGN
could eliminate WB programming as early as next summer, making room for movies.
Earlier this year, WGN also picked up the cable-exclusive
rights to network sitcom Suddenly Susan, which it will begin airing in 2000.
One Northeast cable operator, who wished to remain
anonymous, said WGN's dropping of WB programming would certainly raise its stock.
"We already have a WB affiliate, and I don't want to duplicate the signal,"